As In Heaven, 2021.
Written and directed by Tea Lindeburg.
Starring Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl, Ida Cæcilie Rasmussen, Palma Lindeburg Leth, Anna-Olivia Øster Coakley, Flora Augusta, Kirsten Olesen, Lisbet Dahl, Stine Fischer Christensen, Thure Lindhardt, and Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt.
On a farm in the late 1800s, an intense waiting game begins when a mother goes into a complicated labour, and her 14-year-old daughter Lise must prepare herself for a night that may change her life forever.
Tea Lindeburg makes an assured, confident filmmaking debut with this unassuming, upfront depiction of a young woman struggling to achieve personal agency amid the patriarchal frontier of late 19th-century Denmark.
14-year-old Lise (Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl) is the eldest daughter in a Danish farming family, whose heavily pregnant mother Anna (Ida Cæcilie Rasmussen) has arranged for her to soon leave the farm for school, despite the protests of her traditionally-minded, oft-absent father.
But Lise finds herself pulled between preparing for a promising future and familial “duty” when her mother’s pregnancy endures late-stage complications. Despite the dire straits, Anna refuses to have a doctor summoned to assist her, having witnessed a vision which claims she will die if a doctor is called.
Anna’s faith is put to the test as her labour becomes increasingly life-threatening, all while Lise is forced to consider what her mother’s demise might mean for her own future and those of her siblings.
Despite the fairly low-key, sober mode of Lindeburg’s film, it isn’t much interested in subtle messaging, instead laying bare its critique of religion as a tool to overpower and subjugate women. The near-paradoxical nature with which Anna screams, “I don’t want to die!” when the idea of calling a doctor is raised might be comical were it not such a crushing indictment of faith and misinformation’s ability to devastate.
This subscription to spurious hooey of course doesn’t just threaten Anna’s literal existence but the wider potential of Lise’s life, who in the event of her mother’s death would presumably be forced to remain at the farm and take her place as matriarch.
Beyond denying Lise the opportunity to get educated and afford her family line a more prosperous future, it’d also leave the young and vulnerable Lise continually open to unwanted sexual advances from the village’s over-eager young men, who have evidently learned little in the manner of respecting women (one boy only agrees to return a stolen hairclip if Lise lifts her skirt for him, to which she forlornly complies).
This feeds into a wider exploration of sin and guilt fostered by religious indoctrination; Lise is thoroughly shaken at the prospect that the acts of stealing her mother’s hairclip and lifting her skirt for a boy could have resulted in God punishing her mother with this medical emergency.
To her credit, Lindeburg unfurls this commentary with extreme sobriety, refusing to ever have her characters break out into didactic histrionic episodes – though there are a few undeniably heavy-handed dialogues and symbolic images (particularly the recurring visage of a butterfly reflecting Lise’s experience). But mostly, the emotional brutality is quiet and sublimated, which may come off as a little low-energy to some viewers.
Though As In Heaven’s social critique re: toxic masculine social structures is no less relevant today, Lindeburg has nevertheless done a remarkable job rooting her period piece in a keenly specific sense of time and place.
DP Marcel Zyskind’s beautifully grainy aesthetic, awash in muted colour tones, lends the film a far-flung, transformative quality, ensuring it has no hallmarks at all of a contemporary project shot in the middle of the current pandemic. The marquee sequence, a brief fantastical beat in which blood rains upon Lise’s face, is so beautifully wrought you’ll likely curse it for not lasting longer.
Yet it’s Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl’s performance which serves as the glue for Lindeburg’s vision, wearing a lifetime’s worth of fear and guilt across her angelic face without really having to say much of anything. Lindeburg shrewdly employs generous close-ups to make the most of her young lead, who in just her second movie role proves herself an extremely talented performer.
Despite its seemingly snappy 86-minute runtime, As In Heaven does still feel like a slow-crawl to the finish, repeating itself a few times too many in the mid-section, as if willfully padding itself out to feature-length. And while its social commentary won’t say much new for those inclined to watch such a film, its powerful ending is sure to leave a bruising impact.
A straight-forward, effective drama about the poisonous potential of blind faith and the weight of patriarchal oppression, buoyed by its startling style and Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl’s strong lead performance.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.