×

Film Review: ‘Silent Heart’

A standard-issue tearjerker about a dying matriarch gathering her family around on the weekend she plans to off herself: the only surprise is when the script goes from merely stereotyped to spectacularly farfetched.

With:
Ghita Norby, Paprika Steen, Danica Curcic, Morten Grunwald, Pilou Asbaek, Jens Albinus, Vigga Bro, Oskar Saelan Halskov.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3335048/reference

Bille August is in one of his most productive phases but not, alas, one of his more creative ones. “Silent Heart” is a standard-issue tearjerker about a dying matriarch gathering her family around on the weekend she plans to off herself: The only surprise is when the script goes from merely stereotyped to spectacularly silly with a late revelation that would feel idiotic even in a farfetched 1940s meller. The veteran actors are like vintage wine, meaning they season the cask but can’t boost the yield. Sales have been respectable, though “Heart” is best suited to TV slots and long-haul flights.

In a picture-perfect brick house, sitting in picture-perfect isolation surrounded by a picture-perfect landscape, are Esther (Ghita Norby) and Poul (Morten Grunwald). Esther has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and some time earlier she convinced the family that euthanasia, rather than agonizing debilitation, was the way to go. Now it’s time, so she’s called her loved ones around to wish them goodbye on a mock-Christmas weekend several months before the holiday, since it’ll be the last chance to be together for Yuletide cheer (what a great way to kill Christmas).

Her best friend, Lisbeth (Vigga Bro), arrives, as do daughter Heidi (Paprika Steen), son-in-law Michael (Jens Albinus) and grandson Jonathan (Oskar Saelan Halskov). Esther and Poul’s other daughter, the perpetually tardy Sanne (Danica Curcic), finally turns up with her pothead on-again/off-again b.f. Dennis (Pilou Asbaek), and she’s a wreck. Heidi’s unsupportive barbs make it abundantly clear the two sisters don’t get along; the ever-controlling Heidi thinks Sanne’s tendency toward breakdowns is simply a way of shirking adulthood.

Popular on Variety

Although everyone agreed to support Esther’s decision to end things before the disease completely incapacitates her, Sanne now has second thoughts, and confides to Dennis that she plans on calling an ambulance the moment her mother takes the suicide pills. Even the irresponsible Dennis realizes this is a bad thing, and he tells Heidi, who blows a gasket and then convinces her sister that they need to let their mother do what she wants. A glimpsed tete-a-tete between Poul and Lisbeth casts doubt on even Heidi’s determination, and the two sisters begin to question whether their father’s supportive stance on the eve of his wife’s planned demise is altruistic after all.

There’s been a spate of older-couple euthanasia films, but “Silent Heart” can’t approach either “Amour” or “The Farewell Party,” being neither believably real (and therefore emotionally wrenching) or quirkily comedic with likable characters. Instead, the pic feels like a “Hallmark Hall of Fame” concoction replete with expected scene insertions: There’s something to make auds laugh  a strained pot-smoking sequence  and something to make them cry.

Christian Torpe’s script gives Heidi and Sanne plenty of character (though little dimension), and practically none at all to the others. Esther is maternal and good-natured, Jonathan confused but understanding, Dennis an immature screw-up with a good heart. Michael, Poul and Lisbeth are barely sketched out, though to be fair, there’s not room for anyone else when the sisters are in a room. Heidi’s controlling nature grates and is over-signaled, and Sanne’s fragility  she’s on mood stabilizers and was hospitalized for depression  proves equally wearying, since her personality seems to be crafted out of bullet points.

Steen won San Sebastian’s best actress prize, and while she inhabits the role, she can’t make Heidi something more than a sentimentalized idea of reality. Visuals are predictably attractive, bathed in a comforting warm light.

Film Review: 'Silent Heart'

Reviewed at San Sebastian Festival (competing), Sept. 20, 2014. (Also in Rio de Janeiro Film Festival World Panorama.) Running time: 98 MIN. (Original title: “Stille hjerte”)

Production: (Denmark) An SF Film release of an SF Film Prod. production. (International sales: LevelK, New York.) Produced by Jesper Morthorst. Executive producer, Michael Fleischer.  

Crew: Directed by Bille August. Screenplay, Christian Torpe. Camera (color, widescreen), Dirk Bruel; editors, Anne Osterud, Janus Billeskov Jansen; music, Annette Focks; production designer, Jette Lehmann; costume designer, Stine Gudmundsen Holmgreen; sound (5.1), Niels Arild, Jonas Langkilde; line producer, Karin Trolle; assistant director, Antony Castle; casting, Anja Philip.

With: Ghita Norby, Paprika Steen, Danica Curcic, Morten Grunwald, Pilou Asbaek, Jens Albinus, Vigga Bro, Oskar Saelan Halskov.

More Film

  • The Witcher Netflix

    Film News Roundup: Netflix Developing Anime Feature 'The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf'

    In today’s film news roundup, Netflix announces a spinoff feature based on “The Witcher,” Liam Neeson’s “Honest Thief” finds a home and Sheryl Main will receive the Henri Bollinger Award. PROJECT LAUNCHED Netflix is expanding its fantasy series “The Witcher” with an anime feature film “The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.” Popular on Variety The [...]

  • Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL..Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

    'Captain Marvel' Sequel in Development

    Disney has officially launched development of a “Captain Marvel” sequel. The studio is in final negotiations with Megan McDonnell, a staff writer on Marvel-based series “WandaVision” on the project. The 2019 blockbuster “Captain Marvel” starred Brie Larson as Carol Danvers and grossed $1.13 billion worldwide. Disney and Marvel have not yet set a release date [...]

  • Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs

    Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs, Joel Kinnaman Action Movie 'The Informer' in Limbo

    Fledgling distributor Aviron Pictures has been hit with a significant staff reduction less than a month after the removal of top executive WIlliam Sadleir, numerous insiders told Variety.  Almost half of a staff of 30 were dismissed last week, amid wide rumors that the company’s deep-pocketed financier Black Rock has defunded the outfit entirely, sources [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Bill Clinton

    Harvey Weinstein's Lawyer Seeks Mistrial When D.A. Refers to Bill Clinton Friendship

    Harvey Weinstein was associated with the Clintons for years, socially and as a generous donor to both of their political campaigns. And according to prosecutors in Weinstein’s criminal trial, he bragged about his friendship with the former president to women he allegedly sexually assaulted, in an effort to intimidate them. During opening statements on Wednesday, [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum to Star in 'Bob the Musical' Comedy for Disney

    Channing Tatum is attached to star in and produce “Bob the Musical” for Disney — a project that’s been in development for more than a decade. Tatum will produce through his company, Free Association, and partners Reid Carolin and Peter Kiernan. Tripp Vinson and Chris Bender are also attached to produce. No director is currently [...]

  • John Henry

    'John Henry': Film Review

    Terry Crews’ John Henry is a man of few words. “John Henry,” the folklore-cribbing, violent thriller (opening theatrically and available on demand) about a former gang member who must face his demons when two young immigrants require his help, feels like it wants to say a lot. But what exactly? Utilizing horror-movie gestures and ladling [...]

  • Matt Damon SNL

    Matt Damon to Star in NYPD Thriller 'The Force'

    Matt Damon has come on board to star in “The Force” with James Mangold directing for Disney’s 20th Century Studios. Mangold, who directed Damon in “Ford v. Ferrari,” has been developing the Don Winslow bestseller since 2017. “The Force” centers on corrupt NYPD officers with Damon attached to play detective Denny Malone, who runs an [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content