Acknowledging the physical and emotional needs of seniors is an important move forward in recent movie treatments of the retired crowd, but while “Key House Mirror” has a strong premise and mega-watt thesps, its predictable script can’t cover up conspicuous gaps. Emotionally inspired by helmer Michael Noer’s grandmother, the story concerns a woman who unexpectedly finds extramarital passion in the nursing home she’s moved into with her paralyzed husband. Marking a significant shift in tone from the director’s earlier gritty works, yet using the kind of handheld lensing not usually associated with sentimental tales, the pic will do big biz in Scandi territories and could break into the Euro arthouse market.
Part of the film’s assured Nordic success will come from the presence of legendary actors Ghita Norby and Sven Wollter, two powerhouse performers with the kinds of (deserved) reputations that guarantee public interest. Norby plays Lily, a strong-minded woman determined to maintain an outwardly “normal” life even after she and her stroke-ridden, increasingly unresponsive husband, Max (Jens Brenaa), relocate to a nursing home. As the fittest resident in the place, she doesn’t really belong, but she busies herself looking after Max’s needs.
When jovial Swede Erik (Wollter) moves in across the hall, Lily looks askance at his charm offensive, but the two bond during a furtive late-night pie-baking incursion into the forbidden territory of the kitchen. Suddenly she drops her reserve and rushes into his arms, in a well-played scene that nicely conveys her craving for physical and emotional comfort. The two don’t hide their relationship, but she’s not prepared for the negative reaction of daughter Katrine (Trine Pallesen) when she proclaims her new love over the Christmas table.
Lily tries to explain that her relationship with Max always lacked passion, but Katrine refuses to listen, instead telling her mother that everyone’s been concealing the fact that Lily’s memory is rapidly deteriorating. Lily is taken by surprise, and so, unfortunately, are viewers, for whom this rather major piece of information is news indeed. Perhaps Noer wanted the earlier scenes to be experienced strictly through Lily’s eyes and therefore withheld any sign of her early-onset Alzheimer’s, yet if so, surely there were other ways, and introducing this major plot point via such a method plays fast and loose with the trust audiences invested in what came before.
The title “Key House Mirror” consists of words used by a doctor to assess memory loss (much like the excellent Spanish docu “Bicycle Spoon Apple”), which Lily ultimately has to acknowledge is becoming a problem. Erik rather too quickly leaves the picture at this point, and while he returns, the weight of character development largely falls on Lily’s shoulders. Of course, Norby has no problem carrying a picture: Her stubborn determination, her yearning for a man’s touch and her affecting bewilderment are all movingly conveyed. So, too, is Wollter’s mischievous twinkle and the way he projects heaps of charisma to disguise Erik’s diminishing strength.
It’s all quite a shift from Noer’s previous films “R” and “Northwest,” both grounded in worlds of youthful violence, yet there are also similarities. Here, too, he shoots on location for a heightened sense of realism — the extras are nursing home residents and staff — and together with his usual d.p. and editor (Magnus Nordenhof Jonck and Adam Nielsen, respectively), he’s maintained an indie feel with the moving camera frequently kept very close to the protags.