(2019) Drama (Breaking Glass) Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper, Liv Esmǻr Dannemann, Silja Esmǻr Dannemann, Stine Gyldenkerne, Preben Kristensen, Frederikke Dahl Hansen, Ella Solgaard, Carla Valentina Philip Røder, Peter Khouri, Mads Knarregorg, Marie Dalsgaard, Elias Budde Christensen, Noel Bouhan Kiertzner, Nessie Beik. Directed by May el-Toukhy
Family dynamics are often fragile things. While they are ever-changing as children get older and enter different stations of life, they can be disrupted by all sorts of things – including the presence of an interloper who is suddenly brought fully formed into that dynamic.
Anne (Dyrholm) and Peter (Krepper) are an upper-middle class Danish couple with two young daughters. She is a lawyer who defends victims of sexual abuse; he is a physician. They live in a beautiful modernist home in the suburbs of Copenhagen, surrounded by sun-dappled natural beauty. They have a nice network of friends their age.
Into this is introduced Gustav (Lindh), Peter’s teenage son from a previous relationship. Gustav has a lot of issues; he isn’t particularly fond of Anne because he blames her for breaking up the relationship between Peter and his mother (not entirely true). He isn’t particularly fond of Peter because Peter hasn’t been around much – at his mother’s insistence, although that isn’t a factor to him; if Peter really wanted to be around, he would have, right? Of late Gustav has been acting out and getting into trouble at school and his exasperated mother, no longer able to handle her son, ships him off to Peter to see if he can do better.
At first, it doesn’t seem so. Peter and Gustav often butt heads as fathers and sons will. The house is broken into and Anne discovers that the culprit is Gustav himself; instead of telling his father, she keeps that to herself and lets her stepson know he is treading on thin ice. That seems to work with him; the two begin developing a relationship. It doesn’t hurt that the two girls are enormously fond of Gustav and vice versa.
Anne is also at this time becoming increasingly frustrated with Peter who is, like many doctors, often not present, whether attending to an emergency or at a medical conference. Anne is entering that phase of middle age where she is getting more sexually needy and Peter just isn’t handling it. Against her better judgment, she begins developing a physical desire for Gustav, a desire that is brought to fruition. As she realizes the consequences of her actions, Anne comes to a fateful decision that will have enormous ramifications in her family, her marriage – and her own self-worth.
The subject is somewhat controversial, particularly since there is a gender politics aspect to it. One wonders if viewers would feel the same way if Gustav had been a girl and Peter the one having an affair. In fact, those are the sorts of cases that Anne represents, so you know she knows better. While initially she may have the moral high ground – at one point she confronts the abuser of one of her clients in a parking garage – she certainly may lose it depending on how you feel about these things. Some say that Peter’s neglect drove her to this kind of desperation, but once again, if the sexes were reversed would that argument still hold up?
What-ifs aside, there are some compelling performances here, particularly Dyrholm as Anne. She is one of Denmark’s leading actresses and while she is not well-known in the United States except among cinephiles and overs of Scandinavian films, she deserves to be. All she does is turn in one wonderful performance after another.
Those who are disturbed by nudity should be aware that the nudity here pulls no punches. We see pretty much everything of Gustav and Anne, and their first sex scene is a lot more graphic than American audiences are used to, even more so than the late-night Cinemax flicks of the 80s and 90s that some have compared this to – unfairly, I might add. More than the nudity – which takes a certain amount of courage for a middle-aged actress – there is an emotional honesty to Dyrholm’s performance that is invigorating. We get to see layers of Anne’s personality; she isn’t the paragon of virtue that she believes herself to be and when push comes to shove, she does something that some might consider unforgivable and they wouldn’t be wrong. We understand why she does it but the fallout from her actions are bleak indeed.
Lindh has a less challenging role but he manages to hold his own with Dyrholm here. Krepper has a fairly colorless character to portray but he has a few moments and when he gets them, he makes the most of them. Most of the other aspects of the production – set design, music, cinematography and so forth – are professionally done.
There is a lot to unpack here and I won’t begin to go into all of it. Much of what you get out of this movie will depend on what you bring into it; your moral compass, your own belief system and ideas about sexuality. Your opinion about whether Anne is a villain or not will largely color how you feel about this movie. For my part, this is an excellent drama that gives you an awful lot to think about which is the kind of drama I live for. Very highly recommended.
REASONS TO SEE: Dyrholm is one of the most unsung actresses in Europe. A bleak, devastating picture. The ending ties very nicely to the beginning.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film is a little bit slow to develop.
FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic nudity and sex, some profanity and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Denmark’s official submission for the International Feature Film Award at the 92nd annual Academy Awards in 2020.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews: Metacritic: 67/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ben is Back
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: The Irishman