Someone You Love (En du elsker): Berlin Review

someone you love Berlin Film Festival - H 2014

someone you love Berlin Film Festival - H 2014

This familiar tune is carried along by solid performances.

Mikael Persbrandt plays an aging musician returning home to face his family in writer-director Pernille Fischer Christensen's fourth feature outing.

The shadow of Leonard Cohen looms large over Someone You Love (En du elsker), an endearing if somewhat conventional family drama from Danish writer-director Pernille Fischer Christensen (whose 2005 debut, A Soap, nabbed Berlin’s Silver Bear prize).

Featuring The Hobbit’s Mikael Persbrandt as an aging, very Cohen-like musician whose swooning guttural ballads cannot compensate for his lack of real affection, and promising newcomer Sofus Ronnov as the grandson who may finally change the rocker’s ways, this well-acted if predictable story should see theatrical engagements in Scandinavia and parts of Europe, with offshore VOD play and additional fest bids following a world premiere in the Berlinale Special Gala.

With his black coat and hat, slicked gray hair and gravelly performances backed by a chorus of female singers, 60-something Thomas Jacob (Persbrandt) is pretty much a dead-ringer for the Canadian singer-songwriter, save for the fact that he’s a Dane who’s been living in L.A. for decades and is finally returning back to his homeland.

But what’s supposed to be a fairly relaxed sojourn of recording sessions and luxury living quickly turns sour when Thomas’ daughter, Julie (Brigitte Hjort Sorensen, Borgen) is forced into rehab for a coke habit, leaving dad to take care of her tweenage boy, Noa (Ronnov), who hardly knows his grandfather at all. An early scene where Noa meekly asks Thomas to sign some CD’s shows how estranged the two truly are.

Initially annoyed that Noa is getting in the way of his studio time with faithful producer, Molly Moe (Trine Dyrholm, A Royal Affair), Thomas soon warms up to the kid, seeing a reflection of himself as a troubled young man and teaching his grandson how to play guitar like a pro. Yet just when things get a bit easier, Julie dies of a probable overdose, leaving her devastated dad and son to pick up the pieces.

If the scenario -- written by Christensen and regular co-scribe Kim Fupz Aakeson -- isn’t all that original, the director gets much mileage out of the downcast yet touching Thomas character, who tries as he can to avoid connecting with Noa, until he opens up and ultimately lets the boy into his life. The film’s strongest scenes show the bulky, tattooed Persbrandt facing off against the doe-faced Ronnov, and the latter is especially memorable as a shell-shocked child forced to grow up way too fast.

Featuring music, including the movie’s titular ballad, conceived by the filmmaker herself, Someone You Love is not exactly a singing melodrama à la The Broken Circle Breakdown (a hit at last year’s Berlinale), although Persbrandt is granted ample time to showcase his low-pitched pipes. And while the songs he performs are all decent, the musical aspects of the plot tend to feel clichéd, with Thomas throwing fits in the studio and playing the all-around tortured artist, albeit with real reasons to be so.

Tech credits are polished, with DP Laust Trier Mork (The Hunt) capturing the gloomy snowscapes and austere decors of Thomas’ temporary abode. Editing by Anne Osterud and Janus Billeskov Jansen keeps things hemmed in at a neat 95 minutes, avoiding the kind of overindulgence typical of such weighty material.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special Gala)
Production companies: Zentropa Entertainments16
Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Brigitte Hjort Sorensen, Sofus Ronnov, Eve Best
Director: Pernille Fischer Christensen
Screenwriters: Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille Fischer Christensen
Producers: Vinca Wiedemann, Sisse Graum Jorgensen
Director of photography: Laust Trier Mork
Production designer: Peter Grant
Costume designer: Signe Sejlund
Editors: Anne Osterud, Janus Billeskov Jansen
Music: Pernille Fischer Christensen, Tina Dickow, Marie Fisker
Sales agent: TrustNordisk
No rating, 95 minutes