Danish drama perfection: A review of Silent Heart

The Danes sure know how to do drama well. Simply speaking, Silent Heart is a perfect example of the drama we can see when viewing a contemporary film, and in a more complex way – Silent Heart tackles a taboo topic in a way that we seldom see in public.

The film is shot over the weekend at the home of a family in which the mother is planning to die via euthanasia. Suffering motor neuron disease, she decides to leave on a high, rather than let the disease  leave her defenceless and totally dependable. She invites her family around for the last weekend, and centres their time together on a Christmas dinner (despite the fact that it is New Year). The family members are made up of doctor husband (Morten Grunwald), daughters Heidi (Paprika Steen) and younger Sanne (Danica Curcic); their respective partners Michael (Jens Albinus) and Dennis (Pilou Asbaek), and Michael and Heidi’s son Jonathan (Oskar Saelan Kalskov).

The strongest part of this film is the way the family dynamics are set up and then bounced off one another. Heidi is overtly bossy and controlling, while Sanne is prescribed to a number of pills to keep her from becoming depressed, and Dennis is a pot-smoking man-child who continuously puts his foot in it (while maintaining a smile, of course). However, the way in which the characters work together shows a truly well-made film: the script and story are spot on.

Despite the theme of death being the films main one, this film is hardly grim.The script knows that there is black humour in emotional extremity and milks this wonderfully – the highlight of the film for me being the scene in which the family sits around and puffs one of Dennis’ joints.

To comfortably hug these family dynamics, we are forced to remain almost entirely within the house – a chamber drama that works in effect to some of Ingmar Bergman’s best films. The only problem I had with the story is that I felt it was a little bit ‘out there’ by the end – though the last five minutes made me forget what little trouble I had with the script. What a masterpiece. If it hadn’t been for the slight extremities towards the end, this film would be a 10/10.

While the topic of euthanasia is a difficult one and films like Amour have already discussed it, what makes August’s film so unique is the way in which it focuses on the family rather than the death itself. This is a key point to Danish drama – we see it all the time. With crimes, the Danes humanise the criminals in an attempt to understand them better, and these dramas are no exception. It’s one of the best aspects of contemporary Danish cinema, and I believe it has (in part) to do with the Dogme movement of the 90s.This is definitely the best aspect of the film – it’s hard to go by a good drama in Denmark that doesn’t have this aspect to it.

Overall, if you are looking to see what the Danes do best, this is the film for that. Danish drama perfection.


CategoriesDenmark Reviews
Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.

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