Fear Me Not



San Sebastian Film Festival

A number of fine Danish films have appeared since the Dogme movement took hold a decade ago, and one of the most intense and powerful, "Fear Me Not," hypnotized audiences at this year's San Sebastian Film Festival. While the film has fascinating psychological dimensions, it also works as a gripping suspense thriller. An adventurous distributor might find receptive arthouse audiences in America.

Veteran Danish screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen collaborated with director Kristian Levering on the provocative screenplay. Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen) learns that his wife's brother, a doctor, is testing a new anti-depressant. Mikael, who has been experiencing sleeplessness and restlessness, volunteers for the trials. But when some of the patients begin to show signs of growing aggressiveness, the drug company suspends the trials. Mikael, however, is hooked on the newfound sense of power that the drug allows him to feel, and he surreptitiously continues to take the pills.

While the film on one level can be taken as a critique of the pharmaceutical industry that promotes drugs with dangerous side effects, Levring and Jensen intend to explore far deeper themes. It gradually becomes clear that the drug gives Mikael permission to express the violent and sexual urges that he has long suppressed in his desire to maintain a normal family life. The film avoids simplistic explanations for the hero's discontents, hinting that he is giving vent to frustrations that most of us have felt at one time or another. In this respect the film has a very Freudian undercurrent, suggesting that civilization is a fragile veneer masking profound antisocial impulses.

As Mikael's life spins out of control, he proves to be almost as much of a threat to his wife and child as Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining." A scene in which Mikael releases a rat in his wife's bedroom as she sleeps is as chilling a moment as you'll find in any horror film. But this is not an exploitation film, and it has a brilliant plot twist that adds a whole other level of uneasiness and profundity.

Thomsen brings a sense of urgency and understated menace to his portrayal. As his concerned wife, Parika Steen provides the right sympathetic balance, much like Shelley Duvall in "The Shining." The film is exceptionally well made, with magnificent cinematography by Jens Schlosser, and the often idyllic landscapes are meant to provide an ironic counterpoint to the raging inner turmoil of the central character.

Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Paprika Steen, Emma Sehested Hoeg, Lars Brygmann, Stine Stengade.
Director: Kristian Levring.
Screenwriters: Kristian Levring, Anders Thomas Jensen.
Producer: Sisse Graum Jorgensen.
Director of photography: Jens Schlosser.
Production designer: Jette Lehmann.
Costume designer: Helle Nielsen.
Editor: Pernille Bech Christensen.
No MPAA rating, 95 minutes.