Edinburgh Film Festival Report: Mørke (Murk)

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

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A couple weeks back I received a very kind offer from a familiar face: Richard Brunton, who writes for my old stomping ground at The Movie Blog, was going to be hitting as many films as possible at the just launched Edinburgh Film Festival and he offered to send reviews of all the more obscure titles our way with the more mainstream stuff hitting TMB. I'm no idiot. I said yes in a heartbeat. And here he is with a review of a film I'm itching to see: the Nicholaj Lie Kaas starring Danish thriller Mørke. Hit that link for the trailer.

This marks the first movie viewing for me at the Edinburgh Film Festival for 2005, and what a way to start it off.

For most of the movies I'm going to see I've followed a simple rule, read the blurb on the website and choose from there, if I want any further information maybe a quick glance at ratings (if available) on IMDB, and then the rest is up to the movie at the screening.

I'm glad I followed that rule with this movie, because it made for a much more intense experience with some of the strongest feelings I've had from a movie for some time barring straight jump out of your seat horror, that is.

From the EdFilmFest site:

"Jacob has only just managed to come to terms with his sister Julie's attempted suicide (an incident which has left her seriously disabled), when she announces her marriage to Anker, whom she apparently met on the internet. But then, on her wedding night, Julie successfully takes her own life. Months later, Jacob remains disturbed by the oddness her death, and tracks down her former fiancée, now living in the eerie rural village of Mørke - and about to marry another disabled woman... Co-scripted by acclaimed screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (responsible for many of the Dogme titles), this gripping, glossy thriller is ripe for a Hollywood remake."

I think they are right, it's got a lot of features that Hollywood would like in a movie, and that's not just the leading man who you could comfortably see in Hollywood. The script is well crafted, the movie edited well and the cinematography portrays a cold, bleak feeling throughout. Coupled with the suspense and edge of your seat ending, it's got Hollywood stamped all over it. Yet there's more to it than just Hollywood: there are strong characters, some intense and thoughtful moments, moments that make you feel something, and it's these that make it stand out.

The movie opens well. Straight away you can see the guilt and awkwardness that Jacob feels towards Julie. While those around him seem to cope much better you can see he's living with a lot of pain, even moreso than Julie. It's these opening scenes that also help to bring you into the movie so easily, I was quickly lost in it feeling warmth and empathy for the characters during the family and wedding scenes. There's something natural about the way the characters behave that gently draws you in, and I found myself in a position that I don't always get to, I was absorbed.

Scenes such as Jacob and his girlfriend Nina preparing for a visit from his mother and Julie, where he excuses himself to the bathroom to compose himself after the jokes of suicide, the moment where he and his mother hug before departing and when he watches Nina dancing with the drunk uncle at the wedding. These tender, almost voyeuristic moments make you feel so much closer to the characters, and in particular Jacob.

This is all helped along by some small scenes that spark a recollection in you of something familiar, those close and personal people moments that happen in life, and that recognition of these sparks of warmth is something that it's hard to find in movies. These characters seem real, and very human. It's at this point where you see the very different character of Anker and are faced with the question of whether Nicolas Bro is either a poor actor or a giving us a deliberate portrayal of an emotionally weak and unsure man.

To begin with I thought the actor was poor...but as the movie progressed and the level of foreboding was much higher, I began to appreciate the character the way he is portrayed. Weak, emotionally crippled, unsure and in your mind he's playing on the question - is he that cold, is he a killer? The tiny flashes of emotion he shows can make you think either way, ultimately you'll have to watch it to find out.

The movie turns at the scene of Julie's suicide, and having just built up this feeling of closeness with the characters and of being so intimate, you're shocked to see the scene before them as Anker cradles Julie in his arms. It's here that the movie begins to reveal itself and you begin your journey with Jacob.

Slightly forward in the future and Jacob still hasn't resolved his guilt or indeed anger, and it seems to be manifesting itself towards this unknown man who appeared so suddenly to Julie. The character becomes much more driven and begins his quest to find what happened to his sister, really not wanting to accept that she may have killed herself.

It's interesting that through the movie I wasn't really guessing as to what was going to happen. The clues are presented to you and they're never in any doubt, so it's not as if when the truth starts to show itself you're wondering if it's true: I found myself unquestionably accepting it. Now perhaps that could be taken two ways, the script could have missed a trick by keeping the audience guessing and the suspense high, following the traditional pattern. Or, it could have enjoyed letting the viewer know what is going on and putting the main character in more and more unexpected situations to confuse us and focus our concerns on where events will lead.

I'm not the movie maker so I'm afraid I don't know which is the case, but what I do know is that it works. It's not hard to guess where events are leading, but the way they are scripted and filmed keeps the suspense high, and at the end of the movie I found my heart pounding and my mind doing the age old act of willing the characters to do the right thing.

Still, I felt there could have been a bit more uncertainty to some of the moments in the movie. For instance a little more made of the turn of events that suddenly make you wonder where the story is going and what the characters are going to do next. It takes the idea of where you think the movie is going and shakes it up like a little snowglobe, and you're left wondering. There could have been much more made of that moment, however it still works, I just wish they'd deviated a bit more from the apparent.

The film touches on the strong subject of suicide and shows it without hiding anything from the audience. What comes across is a very caring and thoughtful portrayal of suicide and those affected by it. In fact the emphasis is on those left behind and the way they need to deal with it.

The acting is strong throughout with a fine performance from Nikolaj Lie Kaas who plays the character of Jacob. He really does seem confused by events around him and he is a key to pulling you into the story. The rest of the cast are very good - in particular Bro as Anker and the actress who plays Hanne - and they all seem very natural.

I have to say something about the ending, without giving anything away of course. Although by the end you will have guessed events I found that the way the scenes was shot, the way the script makes the final connections and the completeness of the character's journeys, makes for fascinating viewing. It is very clear that at the ending it is the intention that you've figured it out as the scene is unfolding, and that gives rise to the realisation of what is happening, and you're suddenly very uneasy and mentally willing the character onwards.

It's these moments that define a good movie for me, the journey, the ending, the completion and the walk home not mulling over the movie but affected in some way. I felt sad without knowing why, and the feeling stayed with me for some time. I'd recommend this before Hollywood destroys it.

Review By Richard Brunton.

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