A CEO finds himself caught between professional duty and personal conflicts in “Inheritance,” second film in a planned trilogy by Danish writer-helmer Per Fly (“The Bench”). Equally arresting and fascinating as the previous movie, pic has become the biggest local grosser so far this year since release in late February, clocking 360,000 admissions. With the right platforming, it could put away reasonable sums at offshore arthouses.
Where “The Bench” dealt with working-class characters, this one focuses on upper-class protags. Third film is skedded to take place in a middle-class ambience, making the trilogy an important and valid portrait of society at the beginning of the 21st century.
Main characters are a Dane, Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen), and his pretty Swedish wife, Maria (Lisa Werlinder). They live a fine life in Stockholm, where he runs a restaurant and she is a sought-after actress at the Royal Dramatic Theater. When Christoffer’s father commits suicide back in Denmark, his mother, Annelise (Ghita Norby), says Christoffer must come home to take care of the family’s steel mill business. Maria reluctantly decides to go with him, but says she’ll only give him two years. After that they must to move back to Sweden.
Christoffer’s brother-in-law, Ulrik (Lars Brygmann), is upset he’s been passed over for the top spot and, as the company turns out to be doing less well than everyone had thought, Ulrik starts spreading rumors that Christoffer simply wants to grab what money is left. Enraged, Christoffer sacks Ulrik, whose wife, Benedikte (Karina Skands), threatens never again to talk to her mother or brother unless Ulrik gets his job back.
Meanwhile, Christoffer and Maria’s marriage is showing the strain. She finds he’s becoming increasingly heartless, and he thinks she doesn’t realize he has to be ruthless for the business to survive. When a big French company starts to discuss a merger, more sacrifices look likely, at both a company and a personal level.
Pic’s main theme is the conflict between what people would like to do and what they have to do. Christoffer may not like what he’s doing — and he can see it’s also killing his marriage — but he still does it, out of loyalty to the family and to the company it’s run for four generations. Though he looks at what he’s become with something bordering on contempt, he seems unable to do anything about it. Loyalty and duty are everything.
In Fly’s gritty “The Bench,” the main protagonist was a drunk who’s given a chance to redeem himself when he reunites with his long-lost daughter. With someone the viewer could easily root for, pic was in many ways more accessible than “Inheritance,” in which Christoffer is not an easy character to sympathize with. However, pic is still an interesting look into the life of a person who can ruin thousands of other lives with just a signature on a piece of paper.
Though film is not a Dogme production, it borrows some elements from that school, with sparse use of music and with handheld camera giving an intimate, sometimes semi-documentary feel. Docu quality is enhanced by ace Danish d.p. Harald Gunnar Paalgard’s lensing, which has a rough look in its blowup from 16mm. Scenes in the steel mill look like they were actually lifted from a docu.
Performances are tops down the line. As Christoffer, Thomsen, who played the lead in Tomas Vinterberg’s “Festen,” is totally convincing as a man torn between his own happiness and duty to his family, while veteran Norby towers over everyone as the strong-willed matriarch. Though it’s not easy, young Swedish actress Werlinder, as Maria, manages to hold her own against the two Danish thesps.