I’m a young guy who left home for Wales to go to university. It was a weird experience for me; having to wash my own clothes, bleed my own radiator and put a curb on my own gluttony. It’s a life experience that, whilst common place, is really something that you can’t fully prepare for. I managed it in the end, but I don’t really know how my family across the Welsh/English border got on without me. Parents, written and directed by Christian Tafdrup, sheds light on the other side of the moving experience.
Esben (Anton Honik) is a young man who decides to move out of his parents’ house and try his luck on his own. His parents, Kjeld (Søren Malling) and Vibeke (Bodil Jørgensen) are naturally sad to see him leave his childhood home, but Esben isn’t moving that far away and he’s welcome to visit whenever he can. Kjeld and Viebeke were young once and moved out of their parents homes, but it’s clear to see that they were not really prepared to deal with many aspects of Esben moving out.
Esben moving out created a void that Kjeld and Vibeke were not quite ready to handle, both physically and existentially. A night of tacos and Corona leads Kjeld to wonder:
“Esben moved out of here, why can’t we?”
He sees that the old apartment that he and Vibeke used to live in is up for sale, so he decides to go and check it out. The old place has been renovated, but his fond memories still remain and his mind is made up when he sees an old carving in the wall that he and Vibeke made. He then visits the home with Vibeke, and they both decide to cope with the void left by Esben by downsizing their living space and moving into their old place.
Kjeld gradually recreates his living space of thirty years ago, from the telephone to the holes in the ceiling. Most adults buy an expensive car when they go through a midlife crisis. Then something happens that neither Esben, Kjeld, Vibeke or the audience were really prepared for: Kjeld and Vibeke return to their twenty-something forms.
A fairly simple and straightforward film takes a risky supernatural turn, but Tafdrup makes it work and does what any good writer/director does throughout the course of a film: He makes us ask questions of the film and ourselves. Have they really gone back 30 years? How does this affect their innocuously drifting relationship with their son? Just how healthy is it to recreate the days gone by?
Maybe Kjeld and Vibeke would have been better off buying an expensive car.
Despite the supernatural turn that the movie takes, it’s a fairly simple narrative. This is not a slant on the movie, it’s what I enjoy the most about it. The majority of the film takes place indoors in small spaces and only has five main cast members. It’s a simple film with characters and special awareness that is so easy to empathise with and see ourselves in. In a way, the film shares elements with the Dogme95 movement, which promoted minimalist and natural film-making.
I’m about the same age as Esben is in the movie, or at least I was a couple of years ago. Like me, he enjoys handball and the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I can also empathise with his parents. Too often I find myself yearning for the days of old when things seemed easier and there was very little responsibility to be had. Kjeld and Vibeke cannot be faulted for wanting to do their own thing, but they have a responsibility to their son who is trying to navigate his way through adulthood.
Parents is, at times, a fairly tough watch. The implied incestuous relationship between Esben and twenty-something Vibeke causes growing unease, especially as it seems to have grown out of spite and resentment, traits of both Esben and Vibeke that really just appears rather than is planted early on. Kjeld did kind of blow off Esben after he split with his girlfriend, but this seems like a rather over-the-top way of mirroring Kjeld’s life choices in order to teach him a lesson. Plus, even if she is thirty years younger, Vibeke is still his mother.
But Parents allows us to remember our own happy days whilst reminding us that the past is in the past for a reason. It’s a very enjoyable, subtly philosophical and, despite the supernatural tones, it feels like a very naturally produced and naturally aesthetic film. Hopefully, it will get a lot more coverage over the next few months or so.