It’s almost embarrassing to keep saying it, but the Scandinavians, especially the Danish ones, have an incredible knack for making reality look real without making it boring. So many films try it, and your only reaction is, ‘Why should I be watching something I have going on every day?’ But with films like En Familie, the reaction becomes one of empathy and self-reflection and a general desire to reevaluate your own life in view of what you have just seen on the screen.
The film, which tells the story of a family dynasty (bakers to the Danish royal court) poised on the brink of disaster because the paterfamilias can’t find a successor, compares love to a loaf of bread: rough and crusty on the outside, smooth and comforting on the inside. And like a good bread, love needs time (and forces you out of bed early).
The central relationship exemplifies a realization that was famously explored in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: that is, you can only truly love someone if you’ve imagined (not necessarily seen) them at their worst, and gotten over it. Ditte is torn between family loyalty (her sense of responsibility for what previous generations have built), her love for her boyfriend and her career as a gallery owner.
All these conflicts are not there to drive forward the story – written by the director and Kim Fupz Aakeson – but arise organically from the characters, by the kind of people that Ditte and her family are. In the end, Ditte emerges as the true heir to her father’s life work, but maybe not quite in the way he imagined it.
EN FAMILIE (A FAMILY) | Directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen (Denmark 2010) with Lene Maria Christensen, Johan Philip Pilou Asbaek, Jesper Christensen. Opens March 3