Finally being given a wider release to capitalise on Sofie Gråbøl’s profile, courtesy of Scandi-crime series The Killing, this Danish drama about a man accused of incest is a brooding drama with an unusually tight focus and a real knack for cranking up the tension.
Having mentioned Gråbøl, I must now immediately jump in and point out that she is not the star. And good though she is, the focus of this intense drama is Troels Lyby, who is great as you watch him. In retrospect you realise just how great.
I am using words like “brooding”, “intense”, “tight” and “focus” because that is the entire point of the film. From start to finish it is about Henrik, the father (Lyby), a swimming instructor who’s chummy, likeable, dependable, loves his wife (Gråbøl), has the usual minor problems with a teenage daughter. As the film opens mum and dad are in the office of a child psychiatrist because of her, listening patiently as the shrink tells them a rambling story of a troll. It seems almost accidental.
What director Jacob Thuesen and cinematographer then proceed to do – as Henrik is in short order accused of incest, picked up by the cops, taken in for questioning, taken to court, and so on – is close the visual focus right down on Henrik. There are other people in this drama, Gråbøl, notably, Paw Henriksen as Henrik’s decent workmate, but increasingly and almost from this first shot the already austere colour palette – Scandi-blue, you might call it – is complemented by the tightest of tight frames, very shallow planes of focus, fat-free editing delivering just enough information but nothing more. The lighting does the same thing. Frequently we see Henrik illuminated by a gash of light while the rest of his surroundings are in the murk.
This throws the focus entirely on the accused man. Regardless of whether he is innocent or guilty, this suite of artistic decisions puts us in Henrik’s world. The full weight of either being found out, or of the false accusation (we’re not sure which it is) are almost palpable. We’re sweating with him, angry on his behalf.
So did he do it? It actually doesn’t matter. Accused is playing with the viewer’s natural human tendency to “imprint” – as chicks do when born – on anything they get close to. See Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy for Mr Vengeance for a drama working the same territory (though with a lot more gore and humour).
Then, at 50 minutes in, Accused does something unexpected and starts to address the question of Henrik’s guilt. And at this point I had a serious misgivings that we were about to dip into the familiar tropes of a Prime Suspect. I was wrong. In a sequence taking place between Henrik and his daughter Stine (Kirstine Rosenkrands Mikkelsen), during which the daughter says nothing at all (again the tight focus), the film moves from tense to almost unbearably gripping.
So yes, worth watching. Gråbøl fans might find her a bit underused, though her warmth and plausibility are a big plus (and she even wears a Sarah Lund-style jumper at one point, knitwear fans). Accused is a very accomplished, entirely successful piece of work. It probably suits TV best – that tight focus, those highly personal concerns being the province of the living room – though watching it on a big screen in the dark might add an extra little frisson.
© Steve Morrissey 2013