Film Review – Queen of Hearts
Queen of Hearts
Queen of Hearts takes an idea that has been done to death and adds layers to it by strong direction and brilliant acting from its lead actress. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) has it all: twin daughters that she loves, a successful doctor husband Peter (Magnus Krepper), a close relationship with her sister Lina (Stine Gyldenkerne), and a career as a successful lawyer defending children and teenagers from physical and emotional abuse. She is very passionate about her work, almost to her detriment in how she goes after some individuals. When her teenage stepson Gustav (Gustav Lingh) moves in after some legal trouble while living with his mother, Anne seduces and sleeps with him. While this sounds like a basic story of hypocrisy and lust, the film is actually more than that and a lot of that has to do with actress Trine Dyrholm.
Trine Dyrholm is in almost every shot of this film and, from the way she plays Anne, it is clear why. Her motivations are both clear and clouded, yet she is able to telegraph her desire and passions, be they sexual or the seriousness that she brings to her work and her love for her daughters, husband and sister. Yet her methods of translating that passion take on different forms that are impossible to predict, and show the strong intellect and emotional issues she carries throughout this film. We are never given a clear answer as to why she decides she wants Gustav; we are shown that, while she and her husband are both very busy people, their sex life is still active. We are never given a clear cut explanation of what is missing in her life beyond that a hot young man is now conveniently nearby.
A standout shot is in that the sex scenes are interesting in how unsexy they are. Comparing Anne with Gustav vs. Peter, the only difference is her reaction. We are never meant to be titillated nor is it gratuitous, the nudity is very equal opportunity and deals with how the scene is shot over anything else. They are mechanical in that Anne has decided that there is something about Gustav she wants and that is what she is getting. But what she is getting out of this affair even in that moment is never easily explained. Is it the thrill of doing something wrong? How he pleases her? We see hints of things she may want from her husband but whether she is really getting them from Gustav is left unclear.
The camera work that director May el-Toukhy uses is really beautiful, but it is how those shots are made that really capture Trine Dyrholm. She stands out but isn’t shoved in our faces. There are several close ups, rotating shots, simply following Trine from a distance, each used expertly by May el-Toukhy to take what she is getting from Trine and enhance it beautifully to show where Trine is emotionally and, in subtle ways, where she is in relation to the rest of the characters. May el-Toukhy’s skills also lend themselves to how she dictates her set. The house they all live in becomes very well defined, its opulence and seclusion offering up a sense of how this could happen, both in terms of the power imbalance and “safety” for this affair to take place but also everything that Anne could lose: the family within the house and the status that the house signifies all are on the line, and that danger is expertly woven into every shot. We see Anne in her house, working by the luxurious fireplace, drinking from their private bar, and constantly doing basic things with her children that we expect of a mother which add layers upon layers of the trap she has set for herself without stating it explicitly.
Though what makes this work is how it takes some turns that are unexpected and some that are. This kind of story lends itself to only a few possible outcomes and it does have some predictable moments, but it counters that by the work its star and director have already taken in defining the character and this place. What’s surprising is how this story is told, never quite making it new but making its details come about in different ways so that it feels new. It is a balance that is difficult to achieve but it is done almost perfectly here.
Overall, there is a lot to recommend here. May el-Toukhy really has an eye for how to position her set, actors and camera in ways to keep a story idea that has been done before to make it fresh. Her sense of timing and the rightful trust she puts in Trine Dyrholm keeps the momentum of the story going even when it is slowing down or entering what can be familiar territory to many film goers. She has a vision she wants, it’s opaque and full of complex emotions, and it is wonderful.