Despite starring three female acting powerhouses, and with a fourth at the helm, intimate Swedish drama “Beyond” never amounts to much more than a well-acted but rather schematically told story of domestic abuse and its long-lasting repercussions. Helming debut by actress Pernilla August (“Fanny and Alexander,” “A Rational Solution”) is based on a local bestseller by Susanna Alakoski and stars hot property Noomi Rapace in her first post-“Millennium” role. These elements could make this a potential hit among femme auds in northern Europe, but further afield, the pic faces an uphill battle in the already overcrowded arthouse scene.
On the morning of the Feast of St. Lucy in December, meant to celebrate the arrival of light, 34-year-old Leena (Rapace) gets a phone call that forces her to face her dark past. Her mother, Aili (Outi Maenpaa), has been hospitalized and needs help. Leena has zero interest in going, but her hubby, Johan (Ola Rapace, Noomi’s real-life spouse), forces the family to drive south to visit.
Extensive flashbacks to Leena’s life as a young girl (Tehilla Blad, who played the younger Rapace in the “Millennium” films) are sprinkled throughout the film. The first is introduced early on through a match cut at a pool, showing Leena being trained in swimming; now, she still tries to find peace and calm in the water (her mother’s swimming career was cut short by the war). Water is, in fact, a recurring motif, but its metaphorical potential is never developed.
Flashbacks and the first confrontation with her now-ailing mother — a meeting held obviously against her will, as Leena subconsciously refuses to even recognize her mom — quickly suggest her childhood was not a happy one. A child of struggling Finnish immigrants in Sweden, Leena often sought refuge at a neighbor’s house when her drunk-around-the-clock dad (Ville Virtanen) made things unbearable at home.
Though Leena and Aili finally start talking, it never becomes clear why Aili continued to put up with her hubby’s disturbing behavior. Can any sane person love someone else so much that they’ll allow themselves and their children to be abused? It is in these instances that even a great actress such as Maenpaa, pretty much the Finnish Meryl Streep, is painted into a corner, as there is only so much she can suggest within the scenes she is given.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest transformation is in store for Leena, but her confrontation with her past is plotted without much imagination, making the story a harrowing but largely predictable one. Rapace and Blad are both strong, but still look disturbingly like their shared character in the “Millennium” trilogy, with closeups especially looking like deleted material from those movies.
August co-wrote the adaptation for “Beyond” with Lolita Ray, and they prove more interested in the femmes than in the men. Leena’s dad is only a step removed from caricature, but the biggest victim is Johan, who gently forces his wife to face up to her past and gets only one terrific scene, some 50 minutes in, in which he openly discusses what is going on with his wife. A little more insight into his character might have provided a further glimpse of what it means for an entire family to have to deal with a wife and mother who was emotionally damaged during childhood.
Present and past are unnecessarily separated through the use of darker blue-greenish colors for the former and yellow-oranges for the childhood scenes in the early 1980s, with Erik Molberg Hansen’s grainy lensing often OD’ing on handheld jitters. Other craft contributions are fine.
Swedish title references the housing block where the novel is set and the film is shot.