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The Inheritance

The Inheritance
Home Vision Entertainment
2003 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 115 107 min. / Arven / Street Date June 7, 2005 / 29.95
Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Lisa Werlinder, Ghita Norby, Karina Skands, Lars Brygmann, Peter Steen
Videography Harald Gunnar Paalgard
Production Designer Soren Gam
Film Editor Morten Giese
Original Music Halfdan E
Written by Per Fly, Kim Leona, Mogens Rukov, Dorte Hoeg
Produced by Anna Anthony, Jens Arnoldus, Gillian Berrie, Ib Tardini, Turid Oversveen
Directed by Per Fly

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This 2003 Danish film is an excellent drama about the price of big business, a dark tale of how one man sacrifices his happiness. Ulrich Thomsen is the decent fellow who doesn't realize what the pressure of responsibility will do to his soul. The production design is modern and stylish; director Per Fly has a keen eye for his filmed-on-video visuals.


Danish restaurant owner Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen) is enjoying a wonderful life in Sweden with his sweetheart Maria (Lisa Werlinder), an actress just now getting the big breaks. Then his father commits suicide, and his mother Annelise (Ghita Norby) summons him back to Denmark. Christoffer feels obligated to take over the ailing family business, a huge steel mill - even though he promised Maria he would not. Showing prospective French merger partners that the mill is worthy of investment requires painful decisions, including laying off 200 employees and splitting the family by firing his own brother-in-law Ulrik (Lars Brygmann), who expected to helm the company himself. Finalizing the merger also requires firing Niels (Peter Steen), his most trusted executive. Then Maria discovers that Christoffer lied to her again - he doesn't intend on leaving the company after two years.

According to its director, The Inheritance is the second part of a trilogy about Danish life. The first was about the poor, this one about the working wealthy, and the third will be about the middle class. Shooting every scene with telephoto lenses and digital video gives the film a sleek look, and the loosely improvised scenes play with an engaging, unforced quality.

Leading man Ulrich Thomsen resembles Laurence Olivier, which unavoidably recalls memories of Hamlet. Christoffer is very much a Danish prince who finds himself unequal to the responsibility of rescuing the family company. The stress and tough decisions bring a rage out of him that seemed impossible back in Stockholm, where the toughest problem was deciding on the next day's menu for the restaurant. He knows he hasn't the right temperament for the job when he cannot share his unpleasant decisions with Maria. She could probably adjust to the new life if it weren't for Christoffer's violent attitude changes. As soon as he locks her out, the relationship is doomed.

Lisa Werlinder is compelling as the hopeful actress ruined by Christoffer's decisions. The early scenes show a relationship that borders on paradisical. Her Maria is not a materialist and doesn't need the advantages of Christoffer's wealth, so we don't feel that her decision to leave him is influenced by economic factors. They eventually have a son together, and the breakup of their family is truly painful.

As pointed out by Richard Shickel in the disc's liner notes, the lives of Christopher's wealthy Danish family all revolve around large gates, which are constantly seen closing - at the mill, at the various estates and homes. The informal laughter when dining in Stockholm is contrasted with stiff family dinners that are rigidly enforced (the first Sunday of every month). Christoffer is supposed to be a powerful man but he's a prisoner of his work and his offices and his time is budgeted down to ten-minute bites. As a study of a man broken and warped by his work, The Inheritance is every bit as powerful as Godfather Part II.

(spoiler) In fact, although it is not made explicit in the movie, it would seem that the pressures of work are what drove Christoffer's father to do himself in. As soon as Christoffer returns home, his mother is on his back to fulfill his obligations and do whatever is necessary to keep the business going. She doesn't care who he fires and she's constantly harping at him that Maria is an 'uncooperative' liability who needs to be ditched. Not content with running her husband into his grave, Annelise wants to force Christoffer into the same ill-fitting role.

Annelise's relationship with her son Christoffer becomes even more strange. She's the one who comes to pick up the pieces after he has broken down at the French vacation house and tried to rape the made. Mommy has created a monster, and she knows how to get him back to work.

For once, a flashback structure adds to the enjoyment of a story. We see a dispirited Christoffer stuck in Stockholm after a cancelled business meeting. When he spies Maria in her apartment, we flash back five years to see them the happiest of couples. The question, "What happened?" keeps our interest at a high level.

Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of The Inheritance is presented in a very good enhanced version. The movie was filmed on video and has the characteristic shallow range of contrast along with strong digital 'grain' in some scenes, but the image is always attractive. A 'making-of' docu is a multi-part interview piece mostly with the director and featuring a lot of behind-the-scenes video. Everyone speaks in subtitled Danish; the director's audio commentary is subtitled as well. Richard Shickel's liner essay is enthusiastic on the picture, as is a quote by Kenneth Turan on the attractive disc package. Home Vision's release slate seems evenly divided between controversial Japanese films, American documentaries and intriguing, high-quality European dramas like this one.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Inheritance rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Director commentary, 60-min interview behind-the-scenes docu.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 12, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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