Aftermath (Lad de små børn…)

Denmark (2004) Dir. Paprika Steen

Claes Lehmann (Mikael Birkkjær) and his wife Britt (Sofie Gråbøl) are struggling to come to terms with death of their young daughter in a traffic accident. Claes is an architect who works with his friends Nisse (Søren Pilmark) and Vivi (Lena Endre) while Britt is a social services worker in the childcare department. While Claes is sent home after being unable to control his emotions Britt takes on a job involving a young teenage mother Malene (Laura Christensen) who not only takes drugs but has a bullying boyfriend Ulrik (Carsten Bjørnlund). Britt withholds much of the negative information against Malene in order to get closer to baby Camille while Claes begins a campaign against estate agent Anette (Karen-Lise Mynster), the drunk who killed their daughter.

There is nothing like capitalising on a hot property and in the wake of the current “Nordic Noir” invasion on our TV screens here in the UK, this 2004 film from Denmark suddenly rises to the surface of DVD catalogues. And if a convenient cherry on the cake was needed this stars Sofie “Sarah Lund” Gråbøl and her co-star from The Killing II and Borgen star Mikael Birkkjær. Keen eyed viewers will also recognise Lena Endre of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Wallander fame and another alumni from The Killing II and Those Who Kill Carsten Bjørnlund – putting forth an unfortunate suggestion that the Danish version of Equity is low on members, hence the frequent cross pollination of actors in their projects!

First things first, fans of the above mention TV hits should not expect this film to be similar in anyway despite the familiar faces. This is a steady paced and stark emotional drama concerning a married couple whose attempts to reconcile the loss of their child differs wildly and threatens to ruin more than their own lives. Nisse and Vivi do their best to cheer their friends up but a dinner evening goes wrong when Nisse says the word “teenager” without thinking upsetting Britt. Then at work Britt is treated with kid gloves by everyone although she insists she is fine, proving it by taking on Malene’s case. Meanwhile we meet Anette ruining a few dates with her drunkenness seemingly incongruent to the story until Claes, having been suspended from work by Nisse for upsetting some Japanese clients, arrives at Anette’s agency but not with the genuine intention of buying a flat as Anette suspects. The ripple effect of Britt and Claes’s drifting apart hits the childless and seemingly happy Nisse and Vivi as the latter becomes broody while the former decides to get a tattoo.

Britt’s gradual taking over of Malene’s mothering duties is calmly handled and not overwrought with needless horror or suspense. Britt is not portrayed as a nutter rather someone deeply caring who in her fragile state sees a second chance to play mother. Since Malene is a pot smoking teen who grabs her baby roughly to stop her from crying and has a brutish boyfriend who controls Malane and seems less interested in being a father, it’s not difficult to support Britt in stepping in to ensure baby Camille gets a proper loving treatment. But Britt plays a clever game, withholding Malene’s faults from her reports in return for babysitting Camille which is a suitable arrangement, until Britt takes Camille home one night against Malene’s wishes.

Some might prefer this film to be more tense and driven by screaming breakdowns by the distraught couple but to be frank, it isn’t necessary. It is the quiet, brooding nature of their grieving and the slow breakdown of their relationship as Britt and Claes travel down different paths to cope with their loss that makes this film so compelling. The viewer is waiting for the big explosion, the long awaited outburst of anger, frustration, hurt, suffering and suppressed feelings and director Paprika Steen makes sure the wait is an eventful one. The couple go through the various stages of grief and each one is handled with maturity and care and thus creating a more believable scenario than tugging at the heartstrings would. This is helped by two very strong performances from two very able leads. Forget what you saw them do in The Killing, they are two very different actors here. Even as synonymous as Sofie Gråbøl is with Sarah Lund, the absence of her famous knitwear, her smiling face and regular work clothes are just a small part of the great job she does in making the viewer forget her most acclaimed role; even when Gråbøl’s hair is tied back late in the film, one is not tempted to think they are watching Sarah instead of Britt.

Aside from a briefly awkward rape scene, a very brief flash of nudity and few f-words there is no real reason why Aftermath gets an 18 rating. While many fans of The Killing et al will want to check this out, let’s hope this certificate doesn’t create a false impression as to what to expect. What one should expect is a solidly written, neatly directed and superbly acted drama that handles its sombre subject with the requisite intelligence and calm manner it deserves.