Swedish actor/director Pernilla August presented her film Beyond at International Critics Week at the 67th Venice Film Festival today, and received the longest and warmest standing ovation I've encountered at this festival. The film is based on a novel by the Finnish author Susanna Alakoski entitled Svinalängorna. The Swedish title, virtually unsuitable abroad to nameplate this film is an expression used for housing areas with primarily immigrants. The housing areas in Ystad in Southern Sweden composed primarily of Finnish immigrants were referred to as "pigsties".
The story is about a Finnish couple whose relationship is troubled due to alcoholism. They have some of the lowest paid jobs in Sweden and the father drinks and beats his wife when intoxicated. Their young children stand by defenseless trying to survive. Finnish actors Ville Virtanen and Outi Mäenpää play Kimmo and Aili. They have worked together for 20 years according to Mäenpää but never played a couple. Their closeness shows in a skillful and authentic collaboration.
Young Leena (Tehilla Blad) takes care of her younger brother Sakari (Junior Blad) and tries to also take care of her parents. The film critically looks at adult children of alcoholics with insights into how such a childhood leaves emotional wounds that take time to heal.The adult Leena is played by Noomi Rapace and Tehilla Blad and her were both featured in the Millennium Trilogy based on the novels by the late Stieg Larsson as the younger and olderLisbeth Salander.
A first for Noomi Rapace is the opportunity to play opposite her real life husband Ola Rapace (Johan) who is a supportive spouse during Leena's trip back to visit her dying mother in a hospital with their two young children. This is not an easy role for either the young or the older Leena and the authenticity of these two actors' performances is astonishing. Such roles require precision, waiting, feeling, and even closing down and disassociating from reality. This is hard to do on film, but its done by these talented actors.
The cinematography and editing of the film provide an introspection that brings the harsh reality of this family close to the spectator. Sometimes too close, which is why the emotional impact of the film hits the audience in a profound way. There was no wild applause afterwards, but warm and genuine response as the actors stood to take their bows. They then were lead to the stage to take some questions from Italian film critics about the content of the film and the roles each of the main actors played.
Pernilla August pulled this extraordinary drama together and perhaps having worked so close with Ingmar Bergman had an impact on the strength of the work, for the late Swedish auteur is known for revealing complex and soul searching emotional details. Beyond is very much such an introspection, but done in a contemporary cinematic style that is visceral and demanding. The focus on female psychology is modern, and it clearly is Pernilla August we learn about as director, despite her influences. Nothing is created in a vacuum and the life experience and steady hand and warm heart of August shines through brilliantly in her directorial signature.
August said that the cast and crew came to the stage as "scientists" and went to work, illuminating their characters. The process has created a masterly film and should be a front runner for awards around the world and especially during International Critics Week in Venice.
We are waiting for the film to come to San Francisco.