A Family -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- The rapid decline and death of a pater familias have a ripple effect across a range of characters, all members of an extended family produced by the man's two wives in Pernille Fischer Christensen's "A Family." The protagonist, though, is his eldest daughter, Ditte (Lene Maria Christensen), who is under the gun to make several key decisions that could affect her life. Should she pursue her art career or take over the family's bakery business? Factored into this decision are the wishes of her artist-boyfriend, his father's second wife and the various children, none ready to run the bakery.

Important decisions indeed for these characters, but not so much for an audience that endures this debate while the characters all struggle with hospitals, doctors, an increasingly belligerent patient and various family tensions. The film appears destined for the European television market.

This is Christensen's second film in the Berlinale Competition section. It's a marked improvement over the cliche-ridden "A Soap" four years ago, but the Danish filmmaker still hasn't discovered a way to involve viewers in her dramatic ideas. There never is anything unique or compelling about the problems her characters encounter.

If anything, the one eyebrow-raising decision in the movie takes place very early. When Ditte gets the offer of a dream job in New York, she and boyfriend (Pilou Asbaek) get a quickie abortion so nothing stands in the way of their move to New York.

This, of course, comes back to haunt them when Ditte finds that her father's grave illness will delay and possibly prevent the move. Another potentially divisive family situation arises when the second wife doesn't want hospice care for the dying man (Jesper Christensen) at their home. Somehow it happens anyway, those arguments apparently taking place offscreen.

It's probably to Christensen's credit that she doesn't hit these situations with full dramatic force. On the other hand, the anemic direction doesn't encourage audience involvement in any of her characters' predicaments.

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Christensen, the actor, manages to make the movie's single strongest impression as a man raging against his mortality. He responds to his brain tumor with anger, railing at the unfairness of fate after a life of constant though rewarding work.

His life is his work. He is fiercely proud of the family's bakery, a business that has improved its quality and quantity with each succeeding generation and is now a purveyor to the Royal Family.

His disdain for inferior breads and his fury at the hospital that cannot cure him culminate in his grabbing a tired roll from his food tray and crumpling it to pieces with his hand. "A Family" needed more moments such as this.

The film contains steady if unspectacular work by its other actors but, frankly, the script by the director and Kim Fupz Aakeson doesn't possess the dramatic rhythms that lead to moments of heightened emotions or bold conflict. The story remains mired in the quotidian.

It's also fixated on the notion of family as a great reservoir of strength and of disappointment. That's a fine theme, but it is not explored with enough vigor or ingenuity.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- Competition
Production companies: Zentropa Entertainments16
Cast: Lene Maria Christensen, Jesper Christensen, Pilou Asbaek, Anne Louise Hassing, Line Kruse, Coco Hjardemaal
Director: Pernille Fischer Christensen
Screenwriters: Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille Fischer Christensen
Producers: Vinca Wiedemann, Sisse Graum Jorgensen
Director of photography: Jakob Ihre
Production designer: Rasmus Thjellesen
Music: Sebastian Oberg
Costume designer: Signe Sejlund
Editor: Janus Billeskov Jansen, Anne Osterud
Sales: TrustNordisk
No rating, 102 minutes
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