Runtime: 127 Minutes
Director: May el-Toukhy
Writers: May el-Toukhy & Maren Louise Käehne
Stars: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper
By Michael Frank
Abuse can manifest itself in many ways. It can take on different forms, twisting and morphing into something that looks like love or desire. It can exist in the grey areas of these two states of being for days, weeks, or even months. But it always ends as abuse.
The filmmaking of May el-Toukhy teaches us quite a few things during the 2-hour runtime of her new Danish film “Queen of Hearts,” Denmark’s now non-shortlisted entry for the 2020 Academy Awards. A harrowing film that darkens with time, “Queen of Hearts” ranges from somewhat displeasurable family drama to sensual tale of power and manipulation.
The film catches you by surprise, lulling you into believing that the title character of Anne (Trine Dyrholm) is a role model, a loving mother, and a caring lawyer hell-bent on creating positive change. She, similar to some patterns of abuse, transforms throughout the film into a monstrous and master abuser, shedding her family and their love for her exploitative actions.
Following Anne and her family, the film explores her relationship to her 17-year-old stepson Gustav (Gustav Lindh). Gustav becomes the eye of her desire, and the camera makes it clear, circling him as he spends time with her daughters and goes out for cigarettes. Quickly becoming sexual, this relationship firmly plants itself in the middle of the family, escalating a boring existence into one rife with secrets, sex, and anger.
A harrowing film that darkens with time, “Queen of Hearts” ranges from somewhat displeasurable family drama to sensual tale of power and manipulation.
A film that fascinates and frustrates, el-Toukhy’s tale contains naked scenes of sex, with actors’ bodies taking centre screen, and little being left to the imagination. As this affair roars on, Anne works on a sexual abuse case for a college-aged woman and a domestic abuse case for a young girl. She defends them, as she spins her own abusive relationship, denying claims of infidelity and lying to her husband.
She casts out Gustav in the process, leaving him broken and alone, a child weeping for his father. Anne even discredits Gustav as an accuser when he threatens to go to the police due to the illegal nature of their relationship, battering him into silence, as so many people are battered in our own circles of abuse. You want to turn off the film at some points for you can’t believe how despicable this seemingly perfect woman has become, and how little she cares for those around her.
The power in the film comes from the clear portrait we are seeing of a woman who cares and loves with a deep passion, and how her (almost) boredom leads to family chaos. Her intentions, though not looking initially sinister, mask as lust and affection, only to turn manipulative when it’s time to fight. We see this woman for all her insecurities and faults on full display.
We even are given a chance to sneak inside her mind, watching her nakedly find the best lighting and angles in the mirror, looking at her body with a lack of confidence yet a knowledge of how to seduce the young man that has entered her home.
Dyrholm’s magnetism exists throughout the runtime but is featured heavily in that scene, creating a bubble in which the audience lives, Anne’s bubble. Her portrayal of this woman in a controlled crisis should be celebrated, or at least examined in thorough detail. It’s a performance and a character that will stick in your mind long after the events of the film conclude.
“Queen of Hearts” won’t be easy to watch, but it remains a rewarding and important viewing for those that care about how we treat others and how we reckon with our choices.