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Review: Tove’s Room


- Martin Zandvliet’s feature is a tense kammerspiel revolving around acclaimed Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen and her toxic relationship with her husband

Review: Tove’s Room
Paprika Steen in Tove’s Room

In his latest effort, Tove’s Room, Martin Zandvliet chooses to focus on a day in the life of Tove Ditlevsen (played by Paprika Steen), an acclaimed poet and writer, and one of Denmark’s best-known intellectuals by the time of her death in 1976. We’re in Copenhagen in 1969, and the entire action of this tense, neurotic – yet very intriguing – kammerspiel takes place between the four walls of the writer’s living room. The movie was screened at this year’s Stockfish Film Festival (4-14 April) after premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February.

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Zandvliet’s directorial focus is spot on. Instead of embarking on a classical, highly predictable biographical tale, he decides to immerse the audience in one of the most critical moments of the writer’s existence. Married and divorced four times over the course of her life, and repeatedly affected by depression and other mental-health issues, Ditlevsen’s inner burden is here further aggravated by the presence of news editor Victor Andreasen (Lars Brygmann), her toxic, possessive husband who seems to enjoy seeing his wife go through the highs and the lows, and keeps on manipulating her perception and her will.

The position of the viewer, who feels more and more puzzled and powerless while witnessing Ditlevsen’s growing pain and Andreasen’s abusive behaviour, is at least in part embodied by promising young author Klaus Rifbjerg (Joachim Fjelstrup), a third character who happens to visit the living room at lunchtime and expects to enjoy an afternoon of discussions on art and literature.

The cast is well-oiled, and they play their parts splendidly: Steen imbues her role with just the right dose of fragility and despair, and is unable to fully go along with her husband’s perverse way of life; Fjelstrup portrays a young man who ends up caught in a surreal fight between his friend and her husband, constantly wondering whether he should leave or stay; and Brygmann does an excellent job of being a hateful yet sophisticated man who is unable to cope with his growing envy and frustration. The fourth and final presence, which is meaningful and not overbearing, is that of Fru Andersen (Sonja Oppenhagen), the couple’s old housekeeper. Andersen acts as a spying, judgemental eye looking upon both of them, indirectly affecting Ditlevsen’s paranoia and sense of impending doom.

Over the course of just 70 minutes, Zandvliet gifts viewers with a small, well-crafted film whose main strengths are its solid dialogue and brilliant performances. It may feel a little too verbose at times – no surprises here, since the film clearly feels like a stage play – but viewers will ultimately be rewarded, finding at least some answers to the doubts and questions that may arise along the way. Technically speaking, Camilla Hjelm’s cinematography is impeccable. She manages to infuse proceedings with a homey, yet cold-hearted, atmosphere, where blue and brown shades take centre stage. Meanwhile, editors Per Sandholt and Ida Bregninge do a fair job, keeping up with the pacing of this nerve-wracking tale and enhancing the cast’s heartfelt performances.

Tove’s Room was produced by Denmark’s Nordisk Film Production. TrustNordisk is in charge of its world sales, and it is out in Icelandic theatres from 15 April, courtesy of Bíó Paradís.

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