Directed by Bille August | Written by August, Anders Frithiof August, based on the novel by Henrik Pontoppidan | 162 min | Netflix
The first hour details the move of young, headstrong Peter Andreas aka Per (Esben Smed), who grew up under the thumb of a religious, domineering father, to the big city of Copenhagen. We arrive on the scene when Per is accepted into engineering school — cue the goodbye slap from disapproving Dad. In the city he’s swiftly inculcated in the pleasures of the flesh, but struggles to pay his bills or find much traction with his then-revolutionary engineering ideas — power from wind, and a series of canals to help bring energy and commerce to Jutland, the largely rural western part of Denmark from where he came.
In a cafe he meets Ivan Saloman (Benjamin Kitter), a man from a wealthy Jewish family who helps Per personally and financially. Before long Per is getting to know Saloman’s family, including sisters Nanny (Julie Christiansen) and Jacobe (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal). Per is a little hard to warm up to — he’s passionate about his work, but treats people around him callously, which it’s suggested is due to his troubled upbringing. But this all feels fairly academic.
This film was originally a four-part miniseries in Denmark, so it may help to watch it in chunks. It’ll take a good hour before you get any romantic heat, which increases interest, as does the growing evidence of the Christian guilt and psychological damage Per is hiding beneath his stolid and ambitious exterior, and how it fuels fear, rage, and bad decisions. The film may be best described as a character study, or a very literate soap.
The serious, deliberate storytelling eventually rewards the patience it requires, if leaving a few too many unanswered questions.