Sunday, September 20, 2009


DELIVER US FROM EVIL (Fri os fra det onde)
(Contemporary World Cinema)
(Denmark/Sweden/Norway, 2009, 93 minutes)
Written by: Ole Bornedal
Directed by: Ole Bornedal
Cast: Lasse Rimmer, Lene Nystrøm Rasted, Jens Andersen, Pernille Vallentin, Mogens Pedersen

Sort of a Danish “Amores Perros” or “21 Grams”, Ole Bornedal’s “Deliver Us From Evil” tackles some big themes, thankfully without Iñárritu’s lugubrious tone and heavy-handedness, and engages well enough as a snapshot of everyday life in modern Denmark before eventually embracing thriller conventions with a mighty Viking hug. Bornedal is the writer/director of the superb 1994 nordic noir “Nattevagten”, which he remade more or less shot-by-shot as “Nightwatch” (not the Russian fantasy epic by Timur Bekmambetov) for Miramax’s Dimension Films, only to have the Weinsteins bury his original and dump his remake to a few theatres after having shelved it for two years.

Various lives intersect, entwine, and combust when a carnival sets up in a coastal Danish town. Affluent young lawyer Johannes (Lasse Rimmer) and his wife Pernille (Lene Nystrøm Rasted, lead singer of the pop band Aqua!), a teacher, have moved with their two children from Oslo, but the intrusion of Johannes’ dirtbag brother Lars (Jens Andersen) makes his dream of renovating the family home and enjoying a quieter pace of life difficult. Lars aspires to go straight—his junkie girlfriend Scarlett (Pernille Vallentin) is pregnant with his child—but he can’t handle even the simplest responsibilities of maintaining a job as a long-haul trucker and cavorts with his loutish mates after every dollar earned.

Stoned and distracted while driving his rig home, Lars feels a terrifying thump and emerges from his truck to find the body and scooter of an elderly woman strewn across the highway. Scattered about are pages of Christian hymns. Unbenownst to Lars, she’s the wife of his boss Ingvar (Mogans Pederson) a deeply religious man and respected town elder, and was on her way to meet Pernille to update hymn books for the school. To cover his tracks, Lars plants evidence on Alain (Bojan Navojec), a hulking, but mild-mannered, Bosnian refugee whom Johannes’ befriends and pays to help with the repairs.

While the townspeople whoop it up in the carnival beer tent, Ingvar grows concerned at his wife’s uncharacteristic tardiness. When the body is discovered, the old man stops the celebrations and demands the culprit confess. Lars fingers Alain, and the bloody hymn pages slipped into his pockets are discovered. The (largely drunken) locals immediately turn on him, but Johannes, convinced of the man’s innocence, ushers him home for protection until the authorities have been properly notified. But a now broken and bloodthirsty Ingvar will answer only to God’s law…

“There are no evil people, only people without love” is the tag line on the poster, and a line spoken by Pernille to her children (who don’t buy it) in their introductory scene which could set us up for the worst kind of Oprah’s Book Club-endorsed hooey. Thankfully, Bornedal is such a skilled and confident filmmaker that he keeps “Deliver Us From Evil” from crashing into another…well, “Crash” (the Haggis version). Characters that could easily be positioned as “types” are flawed and complex—I can’t remember the last film I saw where my loyalties to an entire ensemble fluctuated throughout. Bleeding heart liberal/family man Johannes castigates his brother and his flunkies as the spawn of the country’s welfare state, and saintly Lutheran Ingvar embodies the worst aspects of the society’s insular nature when he decries Alain as a filthy outsider and thus the only possible suspect in his wife’s death. Even Pernille is too willing to offer up Alain as sacrifice once her sanctuary is threatened. Lars is revealed to possess more empathy and humanity than we’re initially lead to believe, and Bornedal tosses in a last-minute twist (bordering on a cheat, but it’s a good one) that further propels our understanding of events into turmoil.

Not that there aren’t some familiar joys to be had: once the third act resets the tale into serious “Straw Dogs” territory, the uber-liberal Johannes, like Dustin Hoffman’s mathematician, begins to enjoy dishing out comeuppance a little too much--to paraphrase Chekov: “If a nail gun is purchased in hardware store in Act One”…well, you can figure out the rest…

One of TIFF 2009’s best entries and a long-overdue second coming for Bornedal across the pond, “Deliver Us From Evil” has been sold to Evokative Films for distribution in Canada, likely not until next year, though.

©Robert J. Lewis 2009