Film Review: ‘In Your Arms’

A lyrically lensed tale of a bitter, late-thirtysomething man suffering from a fast-moving motor neuron disease and the enigmatic nurse persuaded to deliver him into the hands of a Dignitas-like organization in Switzerland.

Lisa Carlehed, Peter Plaugborg, Johanna Wokalek, Kirsten Olesen. (Danish, German, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2719660/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1

Whatever one’s feelings about the right to die with dignity, it’s not easy to watch even a fictional character commit assisted suicide in excruciating detail, and this difference will likely color viewer response to the Danish euthanasia drama “In Your Arms.” Debutant Samanou Acheche Sahlstrom nabbed the generously funded Nordic Film Award in Gothenburg with his naturalistic, lyrically lensed tale of a bitter, late-thirtysomething man suffering from a fast-moving motor neuron disease and the enigmatic nurse persuaded to deliver him into the hands of a Dignitas-like organization in Switzerland. Fests will embrace this provocative query into what makes life worth living.

Coming on the heels of Danish helmer Bille August’s mercy-killing tearjerker “Silent Heart,” “In Your Arms” is a slender mash-up of road movie, chamber play, tragedy and love story, which depends on our accepting that slim, attractive loner Maria (Lisa Carlehed) — depicted as so alienated from life that she lives in a cold apartment, doesn’t always wash, eats corn flakes out of a box, and can’t be bothered to name her cat — has the time and willingness to be a Charon of sorts. Here, Maria is dedicated to her job as a nurse at a Copenhagen care home, which houses those who can no longer perform the essential functions of daily life such feeding or bathing themselves.

One of her patients is the acid-tongued, mostly paralyzed Niels (Peter Plaugborg), who can only find pleasure by wounding others with his comments. Anger over his fate has led him to ask his family not to visit any longer, although he doesn’t hesitate to ask his beleaguered mother (Kirsten Olesen) if she would help him take his own life – something she can’t bring herself to do.

After Maria saves Niels from a bloody suicide attempt, her excessive empathy (not to mention guilt sparked by his barbed remarks) convinces her to grant his ultimate wish and take him to Switzerland, even though she doesn’t approve of the purpose of his trip. As the odd couple’s odyssey takes them from Denmark through Germany to Switzerland, their bond deepens and, natch, frees Maria find more pleasure in her life.

What does make life worth living? Well, according to Sahlstrom, sex and intimacy. A visit to a Hamburg red-light district that exploits every possible cliche furnishes the former, while Maria’s loving attentions supply the latter. If one can get past the screenplay’s improbable male-fantasy element of the selfless, available Maria, then there is much to admire in the strong, sometimes naked, never sentimental thesping of Carlehed and Plaugborg, sensitively captured in closeup by lenser Brian Curt Petersen, as well as the expressive editing by expert cutter Theis Schmidt. Nevertheless, pic’s final 15 minutes are tough sledding as the sober Swiss describe how the final medication will work on Niels’ system, and then we observe it in what feels like real time.

Now clearly a helmer to watch, the French-born Sahlstrom moved to Denmark in 2001 and started working at creative producer Lars von Trier’s Zentropa production house the following year. He graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 2011 with the short “Les Amours perdues,” which, interestingly, also involves a suicide attempt and a woman’s obsessive feelings of responsibility for the would-be suicide.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: ‘In Your Arms’

Reviewed at Gothenburg Film Festival (competing), Jan. 31, 2015. Running time: 88 MIN. (Original title: “I dine haender”)

Production: (Denmark-Germany) A Meta Film production in co-production with Tamtam Film, with the support of New Danish Screen, Filmforderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein. (International sales: Meta Film, Copenhagen.) Executive producer, Meta Louise Foldager. Produced by Sara Namer. Creative producer, Lars von Trier. Co-producers, Andreas Schutte, Dirk Decker.

Crew: Directed, written by Samanou Acheche Sahlstrom. Camera (color, HD), Brian Curt Petersen; editor, Theis Schmidt; music, August Rosenbaum; production designer, Charlotte Bech; sound, Oskar Skriver.

With: Lisa Carlehed, Peter Plaugborg, Johanna Wokalek, Kirsten Olesen. (Danish, German, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Beforeigners

    'Beforeigners’' Anne Bjornstad on HBO's First Norwegian Original Series

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  HBO Europe’s first Norwegian original series, which debuted Aug. 21 exclusively across HBO’s territories, has garnered rave reviews in the Norwegian press. It is also a perfect fit for HBO’s brand and goal to create bold, smart and author-driven shows. Produced by Endemol Shine’s Norwegian prodco Rubicon TV, “Beforeigners” is helmed by [...]

  • Refugees from the besieged Muslim enclave

    Sarajevo’s True Stories Market: Documenting the Atrocities of War

    Reconciliation and dealing with the tragedies of the Yugoslav Wars has been a major focus of the Sarajevo Film Festival and its CineLink Industry Days event in recent years. The True Stories Market, launched in 2016, aims to connect filmmakers with organizations that are researching and documenting the Yugoslav Wars that spanned 1991 to 2001 [...]

  • Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’

    Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ Wins Top Prize in Sarajevo

    “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” Bosnian director Ena Sendijarević’s coming-of-age story about a teen raised in the Netherlands who returns to Bosnia to visit her ailing father, won the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival Thursday night, earning the Amsterdam-based helmer the coveted Heart of Sarajevo Award. The jury heralded the “beautifully photographed, acted, scripted [...]

  • Khadar Ahmed - BUFO - photo

    Bufo Sets Key Cast for Co-Production ‘The Gravedigger' (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —   Actor Omar Abdi, who starred in the Ahmed-scripted short “Citizens,” and actress Yasmin Warsame, who made her name as a Canadian model, will topline romantic-tragedy “The Gravedigger,” the latest big screen project from Bufo, the Helsinki-based outfit behind Berlinale winner “The Other Side of Hope.” The film follows a Djibouti gravedigger [...]

  • Jacobs Ladder Movie 2019

    Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder'

    It’s understandable that someone would want to remake “Jacob’s Ladder,” Adrian Lyne’s 1990 head-trip thriller about a Vietnam veteran haunted by fragmentary nightmare visions. I was far from alone in finding the original to be an overwrought but rather thin “psychological” horror film that was more punishing than pleasurable. And it wasn’t exactly a hit, [...]

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

  • 'Weathering With You' Heads for $100

    'Weathering With You' Heads for $100 Million Box Office Haul

    Makoto Shinkai’s animated romantic drama “Weathering with You” passed the JPY10 billion ($94 million) mark in Japan on Wednesday, according to an announcement by distributor Toho. This makes it the tenth-highest earning Japanese film of all time. Since its release on July 19 on 448 screens in 359 complexes, the film has racked up 7.52 million admissions. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content