A career-best performance by Maria Bonnevie is the main selling point for lavish costumer “I Am Dina,” at $16 million, reportedly the most expensive film ever made in Scandinavia. On the downside are bad acting, not least by Gerard Depardieu, and over-rapid pacing that sometimes sees years flit by in a mere second. Pic will undoubtedly be a big box office hit in Bonnevie’s native Norway (whence the original novel also hails) and its production values, though over-exploited, could provide a hook for foreign buyers. In some markets, the surprising amount of graphic nudity may have to be toned down. Film fans out through Scandinavia this month, starting in Norway Friday. Shot entirely in English, pic tells the story of a young woman in the north of Norway in the mid-1800s. When the film starts, Dina is a little child, with a devoted father (Bjorn Floberg) and a loving mother (Pernilla August). The family lives in a house close to a river, and from the beginning it’s clear the filmmakers will use the beautiful landscape for a backdrop as much as possible.
When Dina unwittingly causes an accident that kills her mother, her father reacts angrily. The young girl starts spending a lot of time alone, and only when a teacher, Morch (Soren Saetter-Lassen), arrives does Dina return to the house. Morch consoles Dina by saying her mother has it better up in heaven. Dina misinterprets this to mean that, in a way, it was good she caused the accident — a conviction that will influence much of her later life.
A decade later, Dina’s relationship with her father is still uneasy. Though she’s feisty and free-spirited, Dina agrees to marry older businessman Jacob (Depardieu). On their wedding night, Dina at first refuses to consummate the marriage; then,she virtually seduces him in their first night of sex.
Jacob has two sons, Anders (Jorgen Langhelle) and Niels (Mads Dittmann Mikkelsen). Soon, Dina refuses to play the part of the obedient wife. For his part, Jacob starts to tire of having sex all the time, and also tires of Dina’s musical practice.
When Jacob falls from a roof and hurts his leg — at exactly the same time a string breaks on her cello — Dina believes she was somehow responsible for the accident. When the leg becomes gangrenous, she puts Jacob on a sled to take him to the hospital as a snowstorm is brewing. However, instead of taking him to town, she pushes him over a cliff.
At Jacob’s funeral, while everyone else is in church, Dina seduces her longtime friend, Tomas (Hans Matheson), and becomes pregnant. She gives birth to her baby alone, in a cave, and names the boy Benjamin. One day, during a fire in a barn caused by Benjamin and a friend, a boat arrives. One of the passengers is the mysterious Leo Zhukovsky (Christopher Eccleston), and for a long time to come, the fates of Leo and Dina become intertwined.
Apart from the prologue, Bonnevie is in almost every scene, and she’s excellent. Whether playing Dina feisty or confused, angry or full of lust, she conveys her emotions convincingly. Good in Bille August’s costumer “Jerusalem,” among other movies, Bonnevie’s perf in “Dina” eclipses everything she’s done so far.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Depardieu looks and acts like something out of a Monty Python sketch, and many of the Norwegian actors appear uneasy working in English. As the mysterious Zhukovsky, Eccleston makes no special impression.
Danish helmer Bornedal is previously known for the two versions (one Danish, one U.S.) of the thriller “Nightwatch.” Given a big-budgeter to be shot mostly outdoors, he’s done his best to show off Norway’s beautiful scenery — but in the end, the story is almost lost among the spectacular fjords and majestic mountains.
Pacing is swift — sometimes too hectic — as Bornedal and co-scripter Jonas Cornell pack a lot into just over two hours. Still, Bornedal has one interesting editing technique: giving the audience rapid-fire glimpses of what is to happen in a few minutes’ time.
All technical credits are excellent, with special kudos to cinematographer Dan Laustsen and art directors Steffen Aarfing and Marie I. Dali.