“A Caretaker’s Tale,” the sophomore feature of Danish helmer Katrine Wiedemann, is a provocative parable centered around the bitter, nasty custodian of a grim housing complex and the mute, naked woman he discovers in an empty apartment. Playing far better than it describes, and not without humor, this controversial drama, shot in a gritty, handheld style reminiscent of Dogma 95 pics, won’t be to all tastes but is certain to generate conversation. Offshore, brave distributors of niche arthouse material will want a look. Domestic rollout begins Oct. 25.
Life doesn’t seem particularly rosy for tall, gaunt, misogynistic handyman Per (Lars Mikkelsen, older brother of Mads). His wife (Ditte Grabol) has left him; their son (Peter Plaugborg) is a junkie. Per’s back hurts, his neck is stiff and the property he manages requires one dirty job after another; most nights end over beers with his whiny, parasitical neighbor Viborg (Nicolaj Kopernikus, Mikkelsen’s co-star from season one of Danish skein “The Killing”). Then one day, fate throws the girl (Julie Zangenberg), like some fallen angel, his way.
Scenes of the harsh sexual intercourse that Per initially subjects her to (he calls it “paying the rent”) will raise some viewers’ hackles. So, too, will the implication that this strange, childlike creature enjoys the experience. Weaselly Viborg, whom Per drunkenly allows to have a go, is quicker than his pal to understand that the girl has healing powers.
As Per neglects his work and installs the girl in his apartment, he is transformed by love into a happier, somewhat (but only somewhat) kinder person. Viborg, meanwhile, casts himself as a healer and continually brings in suffering men to be cured. When news of the girl’s powers becomes more broadly known, Per makes a decision.
The screenplay by the prolific, versatile Kim Fupz Aakeson (“A Somewhat Gentle Man,” “In Your Hands”) walks a fine line between exploitation and creativity, but manages to land on the side of art. Although some will object to the creation of a speechless, very young woman who loves sex, the film cleverly treats her as a mystery it never quite unravels, as well as a different sort of caretaker. The film’s ambiguous ending feels entirely apt.
Wiedemann, better known as a theater helmer, avoids moralizing about the story’s premise. Her strong visuals and the spot-on thesping suggest reams of information without words; Mikkelsen is excellent, and Zangenberg is extraordinary and fully exposed in a difficult, wordless role.
Cool-toned widescreen lensing by Lars Reinholdt supplies odd angles and off-balance compositions that suit the mood of the story. The lively, sparely used score by Kristian Selin Eidnes Andersen (better known as Zentropa’s go-to sound designer) amps up the energy. Cutting by Molly Malene Stensgaard is expert as always.