Denmark (2005) Jacob Thuesen
While the marriage between Henrik (Troels Lyby) and Nina Christofferson (Sofie Gråbøl) seems solid and as normal as anyone else’s they have a problem with their fourteen year-old daughter Stine (Kirstine Rosenkrands Mikkelsen). An insular and reclusive girl, Stine has habit of confusing reality with fiction and has caused trouble with her resultant lies. Now the biggest lie of all is about to destroy her family as Stine accuses her own father of sexual assault.
An unpleasant subject at the best of times, The Accused is haunting tale of false accusations and the effects they have on everybody involved to remind us of the potency of such a difficult topic. Matters of trust, loyalty, deceit, guilt and broken familial bonds are put under the microscope in this traumatic debut out from Jacob Thuesen that chills the viewer to the bone just as last year’s The Hunt did.
Henrik works at the local swimming pool as a teacher for beginners of all ages while Nina is a business consultant who spends a lot of time away from home. Stine is a huge concern for them both and it is made plain that her problems are serious enough for her to have her own psychologist (Bodil Jørgensen). Then out of the blue, Henrik gets a call at work from Nina, informing him Stine has been taken away by a social worker and the even bigger bombshell of her assault accusation.
From here, Thuesen opts to follow the police procedure to show the mental torture Henrik suffers, seemingly deciding he is guilty right away, locking Henrik up pending a trial. As much as Henrik tries to encourage a fair assessment of his case, the general consensus is that he is guilty and no further investigation is required, despite Henrik pointing out that Stine has a history of lying. Even the defence lawyer assigned to represent Henrik (played by The Killling/Borgen favourite Søren Malling) fails to ask the pertinent questions that could have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble.
Whether this is indicative of Danish police procedure or is reflective of police worldwide this is quite a stunning indictment of a justice system that is supposed to be built on the maxim “innocent until proven guilty”. Granted this is a very serious matter and should be treated as such but when the accuser has a history of falsifying assault accusations neither the police nor his lawyer follow this up in order to exonerate Henrik. Yet ironically, Henrik is allowed a conjugal visit from Nina, which is odd for someone suspected of being a paedophile.
But this is just half story as Henrik is eventually acquitted but a normal life is not becoming as the mud from this testing situation sticks for the people around him, putting his job in jeopardy, friendships broken, public torment and bigotry, and now his marriage is hitting the rocks as well. Even with Stine kept away in a home elsewhere yet the torture of not knowing why she did what she did is tearing Henrik apart, which has a knock on effect on Nina’s nerves. It’s a fraught and emotionally draining time for Nina caught between the two people she loved the most, her nerves frayed as she tries to rebuild the broken bonds between them.
Thuesen creates sympathy for both Henrik and Nina almost from the onset and piles it on with each development while Stine’s motives for her accusations against her father are kept at arms length from the audience. Many of the familiar scenarios such as the public outrage and doubts within his inner circle are explored but Thuesen’s deliberate and restrained style avoids making this feel like a sensationalist tale despite the sensitive subject matter. What lets it down a little is the editing which is very uneven, sometime literally jumping from one scene to the next with little warning or sense of coherence, leaving suggestions of time leaps or location changes obscured. Otherwise this is a well made, nicely shot and suitably suspense building film.
Many people in the UK will likely to watch this film because everyone’s favourite jumper wearing Danish detective Sofie Gråbøl is a lead actor. While this film stands up on its own merits, Gråbøl one again shows her formidable talent in portraying emotionally challenged characters. Between this role and that in the film Aftermath one can see the germination of what she would bring to her international breakthrough role as Sarah Lund. She even wears one of Lund’s jumpers in one scene, presumably getting her application for the role in early! The characters and their relationships slowly deteriorate before our eyes and Gråbøl is matched by a measured and nuanced performance from Troels Lyby. His essaying of a man destroyed is a masterclass is slowly building intensity and emotional resonance yet Lyby is canny enough to keep enough back for the film’s shocking denouement.
Nordic Noir has been all the rage since The Killing burst onto our TV screens three years ago and while these belated film releases from Denmark and its Scandinavian cousins feel like shameless cash ins, they are very welcome, especially when they are of the quality of Accused. A bold look into a dark subject, a cold chill is likely to stay with you long after the end credits roll and another fine example of realistic and emotionally charged Scandinavian drama.