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Forbrydelser (2004)

In Your Hands

Directed by:

Annette K. Olesen

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 101 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: Denmark

On March 20th, 1995, at a celebration of the centenary of film at the Odéon – Théatre de L’Europe in Paris, Lars von Trier presented ‘Dogme 95’, a new manifesto for cinema that he had drawn up with his friend and fellow Danish director Thomas Vinterberg in a mere 45 minutes. At the core of Dogme 95 were ten so-called ‘Vows of Chastity’, including commandments to use only handheld cameras and natural sounds, lighting and settings, as well as strict bans on all superficial action or genre-based material (see http://www.dogme95.dk/the_vow/vow.html). Aimed at revitalising cinematic form by stripping away at the sensational effects favored by Hollywood, Dogme 95 was at first dismissed as little more than a publicity stunt (and it certainly was that in part) – but the first two Dogme films, Vinterberg’s ‘Festen’ (1998) and von Trier’s ‘The Idiots’ (1998), were of such exceptional quality that even Hollywood took notice, and suddenly handheld camerawork became de rigeur even in the most mainstream of movies.

Since then ‘pure’ Dogme films like ‘Mifune’ (1999), ‘Julien Donkey-Boy’ (1999), ‘The King is Alive’ (2000), Italian for Beginners (2000) and ‘Open Hearts’ (2002) have been successes both in terms of their own merit and (relatively speaking) at the box office, while 26 other films made under the official Dogme aegis have effectively slipped away unnoticed – but now, Dogme has returned to its native Denmark with Annette K. Olesen’s ‘In Your Hands’, and there is reason once again to feel enthusiastic about the raw power of cinema. Perhaps inspired by the religious language intrinsic to the whole Dogme movement (with its ‘vows of chastity’, its ‘confessions’ from directors who have deviated slightly from the rules, and of course its ‘dogma’), Olesen has made a film about the place of faith in contemporary society, and come up with a conclusion that is far less comforting than you would like to believe.

Anna (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen) is a newly graduated theologian who has given up trying to have a baby with her husband Frank (Lars Ranthe). After accepting a temporary post as chaplain in a women’s prison, she soon hears stories about a new inmate called Kate (Trine Dyrholm) and her magical touch that can cure prisoners suffering from heroin withdrawal. Even though Kate detects that Anna is pregnant even before Anna knows it herself, Anna remains sceptical of the inmate’s powers, and horrified by the crime that got her convicted in the first place – but then an awful moral dilemma arises that requires Anna to believe in miracles.

Shot in a style that is undistractingly plain, ‘In Your Hands’ relies almost entirely on the extraordinary powers of its performers and on the economic naturalism of Kim Fupz Aakeson’s script to fill its viewers with a tangible sense of hope before leaving them in abject despair. Not since Mathieu Kassovitz’s ‘La Haine’ (1995) has a film’s ending left me feeling so utterly devastated – except that Olesen does not need a gun to bang her point home. ‘In Your Hands’ coaxes its viewers into swallowing a redemptive storyline all too familiar from Hollywood’s dream factory, before forcing them to spit it right back out. It is that Dogme spirit again, thumbing its nose at the mawkish sensibilities of Tinseltown – and the result is a film of magical realism where the realism wins out, hands down.

It's Got: Superb acting, an intelligent script that conceals its art behind naturalism, and a breathtakingly chilling ending.

It Needs: To be avoided by anyone looking for light escapist entertainment.

DVD Extras Scene selection; optional English subtitles; Q&A with writer/director Annette K. Olesen (33min, in English) on the extensive research that goes into her films, her practice of getting actors to prepare their characters before they ever see her script, her interest in human realities, and her contentment that "I dont feel I should give solutions or even hope"; featurette (19min, Danish with English subtitles), poorly cut but interesting, featuring interviews with Olesen ("its time to tell a feel-bad story") and with actors Trine Dyrholm ("a film about loneliness on various levels"), Ann Eleonora Jørgensen ("about forgiveness [and] how hard it is to forgive"), Sonja Richter ("I play the child") - as well as behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot (in a real prison). Version reviewed: In Your Hands (Metrodome) DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

Jesus of Montreal, The Green Mile

Summary

There can be no dogma without faith – and so this, the 34th Dogme film, tackles faith head-on with devastatingly powerful results.

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