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VENICE — Toni Morrison once said that regardless of how many beautiful, sappy or tired lines we’ve heard about the moon, the moment a master writer finds a new way of describing it, we are moved to tears. This holds true for much-lauded actress Pernilla August’s treatment of domestic violence and alcoholism in “Beyond,” a simultaneously restrained, gut-wrenching, but hopeful feature debut.
“Beyond” is based on the best-selling, semiautobiographical Swedish novel by Susanna Alakoski and features Noomi Rapace, a global star since she first took the role of Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Success in the Nordic countries is ensured, as is international art house appeal, for this dramatic, beautifully acted but never bleak story.
In “Beyond,” Rapace plays Leena, a seemingly happy wife and mother of two who returns to her hometown when she learns her mother is dying. Actually, she is dragged back by her husband (Rapace’s real-life spouse, Ola Rapace), who like their daughters reacts rather unflappably to the news that Mom’s Mom is alive, a fact Leena kept from her family.
But this is a tiny bone to pick with a film that burns slowly to uncover, through flashbacks, Leena’s childhood during the 1970s. During a tenuous moment of sobriety for her alcoholic parents (Finnish actors Ville Virtanen and Outi Maenpaa, both all too human and heartbreaking) and gentleness from her violent father, Leena and her little brother tentatively hope for a better future.
August predominantly uses close-ups to drive home the claustrophobia of the vicious cycle of (physical and substance) abuse, and captures the genuine tenderness and voracious feelings of guilt of the parents, in between moments of monstrosity and weakness. The grown-ups understand even better than Leena where it is all heading, but no one is able to stop the tragedy.
August and Lolita Ray have written fully developed characters in a few, seemingly effortless strokes, which the cast embody to perfection. It’s hard to say who turns in a stronger lead performance: Rapace or Tehilla Blad as the adolescent Leena. Blad has already played a young Rapace, in the Millennium trilogy, and here the 15-year-old actress carries the weight of the world her character has been given with unquestionable depth.
Rapace proves she is an heir of the Bergman school of understatement. A driven woman seeking order – to the point of straightening out the toothbrushes in the bathroom as she takes in her mother’s impending death on the phone – her Leena is all determination and forward motion. She cannot stop moving for fear her demons will break her.
Technical credits are solid: The look of the film is grainy, which adds to the flashbacks, and the music unassumingly simple and haunting.
Venue: Venice Film Festival
Production company: Drak Film, Hepp Film
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Tahilla Blad, Ola Rapace, Outi Maenpaa, Ville Virtanen, Junior Blad, Alpha Blad, Selma Cuba
Director: Pernilla August
Screenwriters: August, Lolita Ray
Producers: Helena Danielsson, Ralf Karlsson
Director of photography: Erik Molberg Hansen
Production designer: Anna Asp
Music: Magnus Jarlbo, Sebatian Oberg
Costume designer: Kicki Ilander
Editor: Asa Mossberg
No rating, 99 minutes
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