QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM SAN SEBASTIAN
Set in the director’s native small town of Tønder, Frelle Petersen’s sophomore feature focuses on a young woman named Lily (Jette Søndergaard) and her immediate family. For some unexplained reason, she is unable to conceive a child naturally with her doting partner, and they resort to an excruciating IVF treatment. Numerous doctor visits, an invasive insemination process and the prospect of multiple failed tries take their toll on the couple’s routine. Lily’s mother Maren attempts to lend a hand by advising on their diet and the size of her in-law’s underwear, but her kindness if of very little help. The couple remains quietly despondent.
Maren and her husband Egon are struggling with the loss of their adult son. In good Scandinavian style, they rarely vocalise their pain, with stoic acceptance prevailing instead. It isn’t until the very end of the film that that a more palpable emotional catharsis takes place. Mother, son, daughter and son-in-law are united in their perceived failure to extend the family. There is tension between these family members, which the director allows to flow spontaneously, never resorting to outright confrontation, or putting the characters through the wringer. This is not a melodrama. Petersen’s slow and uneventful directorial has instead been described as “naturalistic”. The director has received a vast amount of praise for his debut feature Uncle (2019), also featuring Søndergaard in the lead. Uncle and Forever are intended to be the first two pieces of a trilogy.
The problem with Forever is that the narrative arc is just too flat, and the script is banal. Little signifiers add very little to the story. Roasting and grinding coffee are a recurring topic. The biggest takeaway from the film seems to be: making the perfect cup of coffee is just as difficult as conceiving a child. Mould can destroy coffee beans in the same way a Lily’s eggs can become damaged in the process of fertilisation. A flavoursome analogy? Not to my taste. At one point, Lily’s partner eats the only almond in a cake, with Danish tradition stating that he should receive a gift for that. The only problem is that Maren forgot to buy the present. The parallels between the almond and the couple inability to conceive are there for audiences to savour. Coffee beans and almonds? Such insipid narrative devices!
The Danish flag is also central to the story. The family consistently hoist the Nordic cross, while also sticking it to their food and table. Birds and ornithology too make a regular appearance in this mostly bland story. The film climaxes at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, the second oldest amusement park in the world. The entire family enjoys emotional deliverance on one of their wooden rollercoasters. These ups and downs have not moved me. The emotional journey of this small Danish family has failed to enrapture me.
Forever has just premiered at the 70th San Sebastian Film Festival, as part of the event’s Official Competition. The film has already been viewed by almost 100,000 cinema goers in its native Denmark (that’s about 2% of the country’s population!). I wouldn’t be surprised if it snatched one of the event’s top prizes. A similarly monotonous Danish movie dealing with grief and pregnancy won two of the Festival’s most prestigious awards last year: Best Director and Best Leading Performance Ex-Aequo.