The Here After: Once a pariah, always a pariah
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2015: Poland-based Swedish director Magnus von Horn has woven a tale of education that is meticulous, bristling with tension, suffocating and irredeemable
The Swedish-Polish co-production The Here After [+see also:
interview: Magnus von Horn
film profile] by Magnus von Horn, the fifth and last of the feature debuts on the programme of the Directors' Fortnight at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is a true story of education. The hero, John (Ulrik Munther), is a sixth-form student who the writer-director says was inspired by a real testimony that he could relate to, because he wondered if he, himself, would be capable of a deed as terrible as that carried out by this boy...
Von Horn has even come up with a story of rehabilitation, as the movie kicks off at the point when John returns to his house in the country, where he lives with his father, who appears overwhelmed by the situation; his grandfather, who would be capable of gunning down a dog with a rifle with no warning whatsoever; and his little brother, who shrinks away from any outburst that happens to be too vehement, including those intended to show affection. The teacher who wishes John good luck at the start hits the nail on the head, because his return home is difficult, especially as within this rural community, everyone knows him and knows what he did, and no one is prepared to forgive him, except for the schools (particularly his former secondary school, which agrees to take him again, as he is completely eligible to re-enrol). In this scornful atmosphere, while the camera (shrewdly operated by Lukasz Zal) seems to keep a constant eye out for the moment of the big explosion, John drifts almost like a ghost, silently, with an expressionless face and his blue-eyed gaze that he has totally drained of all extreme feelings – this makes him appear utterly pure, thus rendering his crime unimaginable.
Von Horn keeps up the suspense of the situation – this infamous crime, of which the movie depicts the "hereafter" – for a long time: he allows us to observe and wait for something to happen. Little by little, we discover more about the murder that earned the young hero a two-year stretch in prison, but the situation remains frozen, as if it were stricken by that paralysis that Joyce talked about in Dubliners, and which is perpetuated so easily in this male-dominated world. It is, incidentally, the handful of female characters who pose questions, rattle the cage of repressed emotions and dare to put into words the process of questioning that constitutes the preliminary step necessary for any form of catharsis.
The suspense that Von Horn builds up is thus drawn out through a long wait, brimming with tension, because the ostensible calmness exhibited by this young, unfathomable character makes you fear some kind of implosion, or at least something undefinable – and therefore uncontrollable. We always have the impression that we are on the verge of something terrible, as we observe this almost angelically blond young man with a look that says butter wouldn't melt, this boy with so much bottled up inside him; this strange dread is amplified by the ever-more stifling realisation of the fact that it is impossible for him to go back, to return to the time before. In one single, incomprehensible instant, John condemned himself to live in the hereafter, for all eternity.
The Here After was made thanks to the combined efforts of Polish outfit Lava Films (Lodz) and Zentropa International Sweden. The international sales for this masterful feature debut are handled by TrustNordisk.
(Translated from French)
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