Peter Schønau Fog – the curse of a sensational debut?

History Peter Schønau Fog seems like a fairy tale. The director graduated from film studies in Prague and Copenhagen, and his student short film Lille Mænsk from 1999 took part in numerous student festivals. No wonder then that the small and hermetic Danish film world was eagerly awaiting its full-length debut. In this way, in 2006, Peter Schønau Fog shocked and delighted viewers with his film The art of crying – and not only in Denmark!

In addition to Robert, the production has won many nominations around the world (also at the Warsaw Film Festival or the International Film Festival Tofifest in Toruń). Peter Schønau Fog was also awarded at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, where he was honored with a special award – the Youth Award. Over the years, the film has become a modern classic and is usually mentioned as one of the most recognizable Danish productions in recent years.

What was the phenomenon about? The arts of crying? First of all, on the narrative. The main character is 11-year-old Allan, who tries to understand what is happening in his family home. In her own childlike way, she tries to help her father. History immediately reminded me of To kill a mockingbird directed by Robert Mulligan in 1962, based on the novel by Harper Lee of the same name. There, we also learned the story from the perspective of a little girl, Jean-Louise Finch, who was called “Smyk”. In To kill a mockingbird The problem of racism was presented through the eyes of the child during the trial against a black-haired Robinson, who was wrongly accused of killing a white woman (the situation was so complicated that the girl’s father was the defender of the accused). In The art of crying Allan, a minor, has to deal with his depressed father, who terrorizes his family. Interestingly, the script of Bo Hr. Hansen for the film was based on the novel by Erling Jepsen of the same title.

Peter Schønau Fog at the very beginning reveals all the cards to the audience, outlining the whole family situation of the protagonist. Father (Jesper Asholt) feels sorry for himself, he cannot take matters into his own hands. He is often flooded with tears, which he tries to bring to pity in the rest of the family. Mother (Hanne Hedelund) no longer reacts to her husband’s scenes and throws him out of the bedroom for the sake of peace. She is deaf to her son’s requests, who sometimes even begs her to go to her father and talk to him. The woman just stuffs herself with sleeping pills and runs away from the problem. The older daughter, fourteen-year-old Sanne (Julie Kolbech), cannot enjoy her teenage life, because any attempts to spend time with her peers or first love are brutally stifled by a jealous and possessive father. There is also the main character, Allan (Jannik Lorenzen), who does not understand what is happening and tries to glue the broken family together.

The art of crying it leaves no illusions that it is going very badly. Behind closed doors, incestuous rapes take place, which are displaced by both family members and the entire town. In one of the first scenes, the family is visited by the eldest son, Asger (Thomas Knuth-Winterfeldt), who studies and lives in the larger city. The boy distances himself from his father’s behavior and tries to convince little Allan that the crying scenes are only for show. During the conversation, Allan reveals to his brother that when his father is sad, Sanne comes down to him, and that his father is happy again. Asger reacts nervously and immediately makes a big row at home, which is quickly put out by his mother, who throws him out of the house and tells him not to interfere.

To make matters worse, the only times my father is happy are at the funerals. He can make goodbye speeches in a very touching way, even to people he did not know well. The admiration he causes in people makes him feel needed and important. Allan, noticing hope in this situation, causes more people to die in the town. After all, that’s when the father is happy, right?

Strength The arts of crying there is lightness in dealing with such difficult topics. It would probably not have been possible with a different narrative. Allan, also as an off-screen narrator, is not only naive but also funny at many points. This is probably why production is even more shocking. I felt really mean when I laughed involuntarily under my breath, and it took a few moments to realize what I was actually laughing about.

The most touching scene is when Sanne flatly refuses Allan to go downstairs to his father “so that he will be happy again.” The girl is on the verge of a mental breakdown, she confesses in front of her brother to the murder of her grandmother (father’s mother), which she committed only to hurt her father. Sanne tries to explain to her younger brother that when she goes down to her father, he hurts her. She tells her brother that she has to undress, lie down with her father, and then touch him. Allan in a fit of anger states that if she does not want to go help dad, he will do it himself, because it cannot be anything difficult. Sanne stops him, reconciled with her fate and completely broken she goes to her father.

With time, the girl ends up in a psychiatric hospital, from which her father tries to get her out to continue to satisfy his desires. One night, Allan decides to help him. He undresses and goes down to him. From that moment on, the boy realizes what is really going on.

Whether The art of crying gives viewers a happy end? Not completely. Even though the situation takes a slightly different turn, some things cannot be erased from memory, and the specter of the father’s return weighs on all family members. The sensation in a small town is quickly forgotten, and life goes on.

We had to wait 11 years for the next film by Peter Schønau Fog. In 2017, the director engaged actors such as Trine Dyrholm (Queen of Hearts, Commune, The Wedding in Sorrento), Nikolai Lie Kaas (Riders of justice, Open hearts, Pheasant killers) or Michael Nyqvist (John Wick, Colonia, Millennium Series). This time, however, he was responsible for the script himself. You disappear was a highly anticipated movie, but it lacked the freshness it had The art of crying.

Frederick and Mia are seemingly happily married, but the man’s behavior changes more and more. The amiable and calm Frederick becomes erratic, begins to act outside the law and arouse fear in his loved ones. One time it falls off a cliff. During the tests, doctors discover a brain tumor that changes his personality. The financial frauds he has committed at work also come to light. The man is taken to court and the audience is asked a very difficult question: can a serious illness justify a crime?

As the plot unfolds, more and more details about Frederick and Mia’s married life are revealed. The acting skills of Nikolai Lie Kaas cannot be denied here, but nevertheless the first fiddle here is definitely Mia. Trine Dyrholm is incredibly convincing in her role, her growing confusion, breakdown and absolute lack of strength are evident in every scene of the film. A woman in a courtroom learns about her husband’s affairs or financial frauds, at home she faces his verbal and physical aggression, and despite everything, she defends him, convincing everyone that the disease is responsible for the changes in his behavior. It is impossible not to notice that this also convinces Mia herself.

The narrative runs in two directions. On the one hand, we see snippets from the spouses’ lives, and on the other, subsequent scenes of court hearings. My biggest objection to this production is that I treat my son very selectively. The boy appears in several scenes, usually confronting his mother. Considering how great Peter Schønau Fog is able to lead minor actors, which he has already proved in The art of cryingit seems like a great loss.

You disappear has won many nominations, but has not won any awards. It was also a Danish Oscar candidate, but did not make it to the shortlist. The movie is definitely worth seeing, but compared to The arts of crying he is just a solid average. Could the director have been weighed down by the burden of his debut success? What is missing here is the freshness and perversity as well as the lightness in taking up difficult and often uncomfortable topics.

Well, it’s 2022 and Peter Schønau Fog is not announcing any new project. There is no doubt that the creator is fantastic at psychological and social dramas. He is not afraid to tackle difficult topics, and at the same time asks viewers many moral questions that are sometimes difficult to find a good answer to. There is nothing left for us to do but wait with the hope that the increasingly older and, consequently, more and more experienced director will still surprise us.

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