When Animals Dream (Når dyrene drømmer)

WhenAnimals1Everything is blurred, everything is washed out, a cold sepia rain drenching the town. At night the lighthouse beam scans across the waves, warning to stay clear of the rocks, to stay away. This is the bleak life of Marie (Sonia Suhl), nineteen years old, living in a remote fishing village in Denmark. Her mother (The Killing‘s Sonja Richter) suffers an unidentified illness, unable to clothe or feed herself; Marie pushes her wheelchair along the waterfront, down the paved rampart to the angry sea, the best she can do for a woman she once loved who is now a stranger to her.

Marie herself has been suffering from a rash and though Doctor Larsen (The Killing‘s Stig Hoffmeyer) examined her closely, her fingernails, her tongue, her gums, he was unable to find any other symptoms or name a cause, but still he is concerned; Marie comes home one day to overhear him in the house, talking to her father Thor (Lars Mikkelsen of Borgen, Sherlock and House of Cards).

WhenAnimals2Having recently started at the fish processing plant which is the main industry of the town, her initiation was cruel but afterwards most of her co-workers accepted her, the exception being the arrogant Esben (Gustave Giese) who taunts Marie, shy almost to the point of being monosyllabic. The saving grace is Daniel (Lilyhammer‘s Jakob Oftebro), handsome, kind, also shy, he shares cigarettes with her while she helps him unload the deliveries.

But a girl in a man’s world is a target; Esben’s bullying escalates and her own condition worsens, the rash now sprouting thick hair. Marie begins to suspect that her mother suffered the same symptoms, that her condition is not brought about by an illness but a side effect of the medication prescribed for her, so she sets about her own investigation in defiance of her father and Doctor Larsen.

WhenAnimals3Written by Rasmus Birch from a concept by Birch, Jonas Alexander Arnby and Christoffer Boe, this feature debut of director Arnby who has previously worked with Lars Von Trier on two productions most obviously parallels Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den rätte komma in with the themes of isolation and blossoming friendship between outsiders and in the physicality of Marie in her transformed state which resembles that of Eli (Abby in Matt Reeves’ English language remake Let Me In), but there are also reminders of Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves.

Given the current prominence of Scandanavian thrillers and their reputation for excellence, it is no surprise that all the performances are strong and the setting is suitably unwelcoming despite its stark beauty, but in her first credited role Suhl deserves particular praise in a demanding role, at first frightened but later willful and unrepentant.

WhenAnimals5Unafraid of the consequences of her actions and emboldened by what has been done to her and her family, almost daring the villagers to come for her, Suhl is balanced by the tender presence of Oftebro, never questioning whether Marie is a human who dreams of being an animal or an animal who thinks it is human, forgiving and accepting of who she is.

Premiered in Britain as part of Edinburgh’s annual Dead by Dawn Festival, the film deserves wider release but would benefit from more care taken with the subtitling; even if the documents and handwritten notes stolen by Marie from Doctor Larsen were not intended to be read in full by the audience they are obviously significant, and an effort to translate at the very least the titles should have been made.




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