Beyond: Surviving Childhood

A DOOR TO THE PAST OPENS MEMORIES. THE BRIGHT AND THE DARK. 

It’s a beautiful thing to watch someone make their first movie and it turns out to be a knockout. In Pernilla August’s case, her experiences and status in the filmmaking community likely made her feature film directing debut easier, but also raised anticipations. We did expect someone who had been directed several times by Ingmar Bergman, and once married to Bille August, to have picked up a few things about the crafts of storytelling and filmmaking. Beyond turns out to be a confident, deeply moving experience that lifts ingredients from Susanna Alakoski’s best-seller and molds them into a film that stands on its own.

The story begins with a phone call that Leena (Noomi Rapace) initially refuses to take. It’s her mother Aili (Outi Mäenpää) calling from the hospital to let her know that she’s dying. Leena, married to Johan (Ola Rapace) and herself a mother of two young daughters, hasn’t talked to her mom in years and wants nothing to do with her. Johan nevertheless talks her into driving down to southern Sweden together with her family to say goodbye; after all, the kids have never even seen their grandmother. Leena keeps resisting all the way, but when she does face her ailing mom again, all the bad memories come back to haunt her. When she was twelve, her Finnish immigrant family moved into an apartment in a newly constructed area of the city of Ystad. When life was good for the family, Aili and Kimmo (Ville Virtanen) were loving parents with an optimistic outlook, hoping to make money in their new country. But Kimmo was basically an alcoholic and when he began a period of drinking he would just sink into a hole – and drag the whole family with him. Aili was a co-dependent who would join Kimmo in his destructive behavior; when they weren’t downing hard liquor together, they would get into regular fist fights. As a grown woman, Leena is a survivor of her own upbringing – but only superficially…

An unsettling therapy session
Alakoski’s autobiographical novel was told from the perspective of a child, but August also wanted to explore how an adult person with that kind of horrible background is able to build a life of her own and go on living it without dealing with caged-up emotions until the day outer circumstances force her to let them out. At first, we have no idea just how bad Leena’s childhood was; the early memories of life in Ystad are relatively sunny and serve as a way of making the audience get to know the real personalities of her parents before the booze dehumanizes them. The adult Leena’s aggressive behavior and reluctance toward seeing her mom seem strange at first… but we realize that this is how the child of an alcoholic would behave. Leena is still trying to cover up for her folks, still cleaning away bottles and other shameful traces of her parents’ illness. Well directed and starkly photographed, this is an unsettling therapy session that ultimately offers hope for the “patient”. The 1970s vision of life in a Swedish apartment complex is convincingly recreated by Bergman’s veteran production designer, Anna Asp. The reality of alcoholism is gut-wrenchingly conveyed; a few very effective shots of the parents “partying” look so shadowy from young Leena’s perspective that they might as well be straight out of a horror movie; the dancing looks more eerie than “fun”.

Noomi Rapace was widely praised for her iconic performance in the Millennium movies, but this one is emotionally stronger. In the flashbacks, Mäenpää and Virtanen are equally memorable as the irresponsible, pathetic and dangerous parents, victims in their own right.

Beyond 2010-Sweden-Finland. 99 min. Color. Produced by Helena Danielsson, Ralf Karlsson. Directed by Pernilla August. Screenplay: Pernilla August, Lolita Ray. Novel: Susanna Alakoski. Production Design: Anna Asp. Cast: Noomi Rapace (Leena), Ola Rapace (Johan), Outi Mäenpää (Aili), Ville Virtanen, Tehilla Blad, Junior Blad.

Trivia: Original title: Svinalängorna. Tehilla Blad, who plays Noomi’s character as a child, also portrayed young Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy.

Last word: “For me as an actress, the best is a feeling of teamwork, and I was trying to take that with me. […] You have to meet each actor in another way. The Finnish couple, Ville Virtanen and Outi Mäenpää, had a very explosive style of acting. They were very ‘out-playing’ – more so than Ola and Noomi Rapace. But also their roles are in the backstory, which is a very different kind of story than the one in the present; it’s bigger and more explosive itself.” (August, Kinocaviar)

 

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