Of all the four letter words in language, love is arguably the most difficult to explain – simply because it means different things according to each person, and individual situations. This story explores one such situation: why does a battered woman still love her abuser and seek to return to him?
By way of comparison, see my review of The Indian Runner (1991), where Viggo Mortensen plays the distraught Vietnam veteran unable to adjust to life at home, and who batters his long-suffering girlfriend. Unaccountably, she still clings to him, despite his abusive behavior. Implicitly, the narrative blames the effects of the Vietnam war.
Not so with this story: in a world that's been (and still is) largely patriarchal for millennia, it takes a brave writer, director and actors to try to find an answer; and an answer that makes some sense, even if viewers don't agree with it. The setup for the story starts at the end, with Alf (Rolf Lassgard) contemplating what had happened as he searches for his wife's ashes at a wooded cemetery. His voice-over permeates the flashback plot and narrative, thereafter.
Essentially, his now-dead wife, Lena (Sofia Ledarp), was battered terribly by Hannes (Jonas Karlsson) before Alf even knew her. As a result of his abuse, Hannes undergoes detention and psychological rehabilitation; and, upon release, he is permanently prohibited from all contact with Lena. During his rehab time, Lena meets Alf, who falls deeply in love with her and helps her to recover from her near-catastrophic experience with Hannes. All seems in order for Lena and Alf, except for two things, however: when released, Hannes still lives in the same city, and, by coincidence one day, Lena sees Hannes shopping at a local market. From that point, the story spirals down to the tragic climax.
The cinematography, editing and actors are excellent, showing how anticipation, doubt, surprise, indecision, fear and mounting dread work wonderfully on viewers' expectations. I'd seen Rolf Lassgard in many movies, always enjoying his commanding performances; Sofia Ledarp and Jonas Karlsson, though, are newcomers for me. The three form the core of the story, but the supporting cast is more than adequate.
In fact, I think the casting for the majors is near perfect: Lena is diminutive, emphasizing her fragility and vulnerability; Hannes is only somewhat bigger, but wild in temperament, easily enraged; Alf, by comparison, is a giant, the perfect protection for the frail woman he loves. Or so we think...
Nothing is ever as it seems, though – as much in real life, as in movies. Certainly, the story focuses upon a pervasive social disorder existing in most countries; but, it avoids the gross stereotyping of real events we read about in the media. Hence, as the story progresses, the viewer is kept in a constant state of suspense, trying to decide the crucial answer to the implicit question posed at the start: how did Lena die, and was she killed, and by whom?
The answers, however, might disappoint some because of the embedded ambiguity about human relationships; others might think cop out, though.
I don't think so because this is story: showing and telling as it should be, keeping up the viewer's interest to the very last frame. That it's all about the most fundamental emotion that we humans share is all the better. You won't have nightmares, but you'll think about this movie for quite a while, I reckon.