Review: Queen of Hearts
by Marta Bałaga
- Trine Dyrholm stuns in May el-Toukhy’s bold, pleasantly titillating drama, screening at both Rotterdam and Sundance
May el-Toukhy’s impossibly glamorous, sexually charged drama Queen of Hearts [+see also:
interview: May el-Toukhy
film profile], the kind that nobody dares to make any more since Adrian Lyne took his last bow with Unfaithful, could easily have ended up as just another guilty pleasure – full of high-running emotions and top-notch Nordic interior design. The fact that it hasn’t seemingly comes down to one person: acting powerhouse Trine Dyrholm, who has already developed into the kind of fearless performer that elevates just about any material simply by her being in it. Coming from Sundance straight to International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Big Screen Competition, Queen of Hearts is no exception – and it might be among her best performances yet.
It’s quite unbelievable what she does with her role, playing successful lawyer Anne, happily married and with the kind of picture-perfect house and family one never sees outside of Denmark, who suddenly embarks on an affair with her husband’s (Magnus Krepper) troubled and very much underage son Gustav (Gustav Lindh). El-Toukhy doesn’t seem all that interested in what drives her to do it, only sketching out Anne’s growing frustration with a high-stakes job and her daily encounters with beaten kids or rape victims who no one believes. She can be impetuous, that much is clear, for example confronting a sexual predator after hearing him laugh off a “not guilty” verdict. But not quite knowing what exactly drives this woman, one who should clearly know better, is actually part of the fun.
It’s also fun because, as questionable as everything shown here (rather explicitly) most certainly is, Queen of Hearts is a master class in how to shoot a blossoming physical attraction. From shy touching while trying to find the perfect spot for the “world’s smallest tattoo”, to the sex that actually seems sexy, as if to confuse things even further, it’s an interesting take on a character that has it all figured out and yet is drifting away. Dyrholm is an actor who thinks, and it’s extremely easy to hear her thoughts here, be it while dancing to “Tainted Love”, way too suggestively for a polite social lunch on a terrace, or when no longer satisfied with a polite marital peck. “I know the system,” she says at one point and still doesn’t stop, as powerful and helpless as that infamous murderous royal from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, constantly crying: “Off with their heads!”
But although May el-Toukhy can’t help swerving into full-on melodrama later on, nor avoid prompting the occasional chuckle upon witnessing the usual “You’re home early” routine, she knows how to keep the interest alive and then suddenly make your heart sink, such as when we see Anne buying Gustav a brand-new computer “for school assignments” just after she’s slept with him for the first time. “How do you like the Queen?” continued Carroll’s tale, which Anne is shown reading here to her blissfully unaware daughters. “‘Not at all,’ said Alice. ‘She is so extremely…’ Just then, she noticed the Queen was close behind her, listening, so she went on ‘…likely to win, that it’s hardly worthwhile finishing the game.’ The Queen smiled and passed on.” Enough said.
Queen of Hearts was produced by Caroline Blanco and René Ezra for Denmark’s Nordisk Film Production A/S and Nordisk Film Production AB, in conjunction with DR and SVT. Its world sales are handled by TrustNordisk.
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