You Disappear: A fragmented, personal experience
by Vassilis Economou
- TORONTO 2017: In his sophomore feature, Peter Schønau Fog plays with a scientific narrative approach that, when perceived correctly, becomes extremely personal
Danish filmmaker Peter Schønau Fog introduced himself in 2006 with his critically acclaimed debut, The Art of Crying [+see also:
film profile], which had its world premiere at Toronto. For the past few years, Fog has been focusing on honing his technique, and he now returns with his highly anticipated sophomore effort, You Disappear [+see also:
interview: Peter Schønau Fog
film profile], which had its international premiere as a Special Presentation at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival.
Frederik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a respected school principal and family man, is being prosecuted for embezzlement from his place of work. At the time of the crime, he was struggling with a neurological disease, a non-cancerous brain tumour. Quite apart from the gravity of the case, his illness affects his judgement, mood and perception. The consequences are immediately evident to his wife Mia (Trine Dyrholm) and their teenage son Niklas (Sofus Rønnov). In his defence, his lawyer, Bernard Bergmann (Michael Nyqvist), will argue that Frederik’s behaviour has been disrupted: he doesn’t have any control over his decisions, so he can’t be held accountable. As the trial unfolds, Mia will try to hold her family together as it starts collapsing.
Adapting the critically and commercially successful novel You Disappear by Christian Jungersen, Fog creates a film that is also based on his neuroscientific research, which forced him to follow an alternative narrative path. And so the film’s initial premise of a close-knit, emotional, medical courtroom drama evolves into a fact-driven, distanced and slightly clinical study on what a human being is, according to science. At least this is what it would appear to be on the surface, as the film is a real drama that is not lacking in sentimental aspects or even moments of dry humour.
With its perplexing, fragmented narration, edited by Morten Hojbjerg, Peter Winther and Olivia Neergaard-Holm, the story travels through time with multiple flashbacks and voice-overs, and it is divided into almost autonomous segments which, when linked, mentally, become a personalised experience, as the film is open to interpretation according to one’s own memories. This could seem unconventional to part of the audience, who may see it as a somewhat cold film, as the director tries to follow a scientific point of view in his narration by “hiding” crucial details; this creates illusory contours that allow each viewer to create a unique, segmented version of the story. But for this to succeed, the viewer also needs to be receptive to this experiment.
With a top-tier Scandinavian cast, including the late Michael Nyqvist in one of his last performances, the film has a rather unexpected delicate balance by being cynical and sensitive at the same time, and both distanced and remarkably intimate, thanks to the convincing performances by Dyrholm and Kaas. Fog suggests a different way of reading the facts of life, but it is a risky attempt, as if this fragmented procedure is not approached from the right point of view, it may not be appreciated. You Disappear is simultaneously an extremely approachable and demanding film, but it is a challenge to relish, as it is always preferable to dare to act and think out of the box, rather than be predictable.
You Disappear is a Danish-Swedish co-production by Louise Vesth (Zentropa Entertainments) with Madeleine Ekman (Zentropa Sweden) and Film i Väst, and with support from the Danish Film Institute, the Nordisk Film & TV Fond, the Swedish Film Institute and MEDIA. Danish outfit TrustNordisk handles the international sales.
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