TIFF Review – As In Heaven
As In Heaven
As the world of cinema continues to embrace female filmmakers and their stories, the focus on women-centric films also increases, giving rise to stories that were unlikely to be told or translated to the art of film. As In Heaven (2021) is just one of those stories.
Director and screenwriter Tea Lindeburg’s statement prior to the screening highlighted her reasons for making the film. She fell in love with a book by Marie Bregendahl written in the early 1900s about the late 1800s in rural Denmark. Centered on a girl who has almost reached womanhood, Lise (Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl) lives on her family’s working farm in the Dutch countryside. She realizes that her life is about to change as she is being sent away to school at her mother’s insistence, Mor Anna (Ida Cæcilie Rasmussen), and to the chagrin of her father, Far Anders (Thure Lindhardt). Lise is the oldest of her siblings (I counted a total of seven in the film), and I’m sure there was probably some duty that comes with being the oldest child, even if it is a girl, on a Dutch farm at that time period. Even though nothing is explained about the circumstances of women then, sending a daughter to school was probably rare, especially for a family of farmers.
Lise is full of promise and radiates happiness. She reflects on her current life and what she is leaving behind, especially the handsome young farmhand, Jens Peter (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt), her mother took in after his family abandoned him. All that changes when her heavily pregnant mother goes into a difficult labor, and the quiet and beautiful life they all live and thrive in starts to change rapidly.
Visions and dreams play a large part in As In Heaven. The community is heavily Christian, and the visions and dreams are interpreted as a message from God. The film opens with one such dream; Lise walks through a wheat field when a storm develops above her and rains blood down. Her mother’s dream involves a baby boy’s difficult birth, and a doctor is called to help her and results in her death. The women surrounding the family, relatives, and hired help push the importance of heeding the message these dreams may be telling them.
Giving birth to a child can be dangerous in our time. I cannot imagine the risk taken by women in having children in the 1800s. Mortality had to be something that was discussed when pregnant and what would happen if the mother did not survive. Anna had already given birth to seven children, so I assume the risk was small. If Lise was unaware of the inherent risk of giving birth, she was blindsided by the amount of blood and the screams coming from her mother. Lise appears horrified and scared, signaling that this is not normal for her mother. The seriousness of the situation is apparent to Lise, but she listens to the women surrounding her mother arguing about the importance of heeding her mother’s dream. If they call the doctor, she will die. Yet, she may die if they don’t call the doctor.
As In Heaven spoke to me on many levels and on the circumstances of women. In the blink of an eye, your life can change, and any plans you have can disappear. I loved that Lindeburg used Lise’s hair as a symbol for her life. In the beginning, it is free-flowing and wild. Lise uses her mother’s silver hairpin to put it up halfway and appear more grown-up. Losing the hairpin brings her hair back to wildness, but its state is forgotten in the wake of her mother’s ordeal. Lise’s hair in the final scene makes a statement about her future. The bucolic setting of As In Heaven is lovely for this story to live in, yet beyond the quaint courtyards and running barefoot in the grass, there lies superstitions and inequalities that are harming women, even though they are beliefs and norms being held by them. Anna is an anomaly, a woman who recognizes the worth of her eldest daughter and decides to stand against her husband for a better future for Lise. As with many things in this world, circumstances can change instantly and what you thought was going to be your life is no more.