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Kaleidoscope of issues around domestic violence, and balancing work vs home. Expect an unusual way of story telling, probably puzzling unprepared viewers but rewarding
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019. This movie shows a kaleidoscope of contemporary issues, easily recognizable by everyone. Apart from a central role of domestic violence that triggers most developments, we also see underlying problems around being passionate for your job and to what extent you can let it go in favor of your family and related domestic tasks. These are cleverly mixed to demonstrate there are always two sides.
On one hand, Simon foresees problems when he would pressure his employer to have all Fridays off, after which his wife Mette simply tells him "go find another job where you can". Simon reacts with a puzzled and confused look, unable to find the proper words stating she doesn't understand anything about his line of work. We see later that her lack of understanding seems irreconcilable, when for instance, as part of a hefty discussion, she belittles his work as "finding an efficient way to operate a steamroller" (Simon works for a road builder). Most people will recognize similar debates from their own situation, or know of others in their neighborhood.
On the other hand, Mette takes her work literally home when she finds Miller not getting sufficient help from the support group where Mette's previously worked. She feels an urgent need to act on the problems Miller has with her violent partner cq ex-boyfriend Frank, by taking Miller home when husband Simon is a week away on business. This solution starts off very well in the beginning, but it is bound to have unexpected consequences. Mette's and Simon's job passions may look very different on the surface, yet are very similar in that everything must make way for solving job-related problems, at the expense of a safe and peaceful family life. Each in their own way, neither can let go of problems at work.
Contrary to many reviewers I found the story not overly puzzling. I must admit that I was prepared for a non-linear way of story telling, saving me lots of confusion (I think) during the screening. I cannot deny, however, that I missed more than a few clues and hints. For example, only in hindsight we learn that Frank is the one and only bad guy in all story lines. It can be deduced from a passing remark in the beginning. That is the moment when Miller tries to convince Mette that they both should join forces in pressing charges against Frank, because he is both her violent ex-boyfriend as well as the cause of Mette's injuries and her subsequent recuperation after an obviously serious mishap. The connection between these two problems and that Frank seems to have caused both, becomes clear after the screening when talking to others who had seen the same movie but picked up very different hints than I did.
One can wonder whether the non-linear way of story telling contributed anything to the viewer experience. Was it only a gimmick, an experiment, something to let reviewers chew on?? The recitative singing voices surfacing every now and then, may be intended as an extra form of subtitling. It may represent the "ideal spectator", like the chorus in a Greek drama. In other words, to point out or to comment on what happened just now. Alas, if that was the intention, it missed me all along, partly as the words were not always understandable, partly due to being not aware that the voices might have been an important aspect of the way this story was told. So, on one hand I was prepared for the time shifting way of story telling due to having read the announcement on the Berlinale website. But, on the other hand, I still was not aware that the sound track was in some way significant. I may thus have overlooked a lot of important information.
All in all, even when missing part of the story line, the issues are very recognizable. Finding a balance between work and home is an important topic, next to the problems with domestic violence that move the story forward. I found the acting very convincing, particularly the scenes in the rehab center. Mette obviously had severe speech problems, apart from her visible scars (including a large one showing through her hair, apparently from brain surgery). She needed help for even basic tasks, like eating. Frequently in her circle was a cynical and obstinate co-patient, named Klaas, bringing life to several scenes that would otherwise have left us depressed.
The scenes where Mette and Klaas were in, inside and outside the rehab center, emphasized the unfavorable situation of such patients. Though each had very different health problems, all showing only very little progress with few ups and many downs, regardless of the obvious care and help they got. Also, visits from family and friends were well-intended but not always helpful. In a way, Klaas had a similar role as aforementioned Greek chorus, by repeating that Mette may feel being in bad shape and not recovering very well, but he emphasized that she had the least problems of all other patients.
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