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Back in November 2003, right near the start of my DVD reviewing ‘career’, I was trying to build up my then Editor’s confidence in my abilities and would pretty much take anything that was thrown in my direction. I think ‘open to new experiences’ was the phrase used, and Open Hearts (Elsker Dig fur Evigt) dropped onto the doormat. I had no idea what the Dogme Manifesto or the Vow of Chastity were, and as it turned out I was pleasantly surprised by a fairly powerful story of disintegrating relationships.

Almost two years on, and another ‘lucky dip’ sees me delving into the Dogme world again. Another Danish effort, this one follows a young, newly-ordained, female priest as she takes over for her teacher at a women’s prison.

In Your Hands
Film
Anna (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen— Italian for Beginners) has spent a long time learning about priesthood from her mentor Kristian. The sudden illness of her ex-teacher a year after she is ordained provides her with the first real opportunity to share her faith by taking over Kristian’s role at the local women’s prison until he recovers. She is allowed to take over on a temporary basis, but is not prepared for the challenge to her beliefs or the unexpected side-effects of coming into contact with one of the inmates.

Kate (Trine Dyrholm— The Celebration) transfers to the prison after a bit of trouble at Horserød, arriving on Anna’s first day on the job. Leading an introverted existence in the prison, her reasons for being incarcerated are kept secret for fear of retribution from the other occupants, but rumours of ‘miracles’ surrounding her at her former jail have made their way here.

Anna hears talk of these ‘miracles’ and endeavours to bring Kate out of her isolation, but a series of revelations about her own life and of Kate’s challenge what she believes and could dramatically change her outlook.

Filmed as per the rules of the Dogme Manifesto (see here for full details), In your Hands was shot in real locations—including an up and running prison—using lighting and props that were already there with a single DV camera and a couple of microphone booms. The main point of Dogme was to take filmmaking back to its roots, concentrating on storytelling and characterisation as opposed to special effects and set pieces, and restricting the tools available to the filmmaker was seen as away to achieve this.

In Your Hands
What has resulted here is a gritty portrayal of life on the inside from several different viewpoints. While the main protagonists are undoubtedly Anna and Kate, there are also back-stories and involvement with other inmates, the wardens, and Anna’s home life. The latter serves as the fuel for the relationship between Anna and Kate, with Anna unable to get pregnant but suddenly being told by Kate that she is in the family way. The impact of this on her life with husband Frank (Lars Ranthe— Old, New, Borrowed and Blue) is one of surprise and celebration, but it isn’t long before a discovery turns the joy to doubt and despair. Anna also forms a bond with Marion (Sonja Richter— Open Hearts), who becomes her helper and first hints at Kate’s ‘abilities’.

Kate’s is the story that underpins the film and although we don’t get to find out exactly what her crime was until over half way through there are enough hints in the tension between her and Anna to know what is going on. Kate’s struggle to come to terms with her past—and to try and resolve a forbidden relationship with her warden, Henrik (Nicolaj Kopernicus) - and the testing of Anna’s ability to forgive other’s sins drive the story to an unhappy climax which is a testament to Annette K. Olesen’s self confessed tendency to favour reality over fantasy.

Acting is fairly solid across the board. Ann Eleonora Jørgensen and Lars Ranthe get to play the full range of emotions in Anna and Frank’s home life and Trine Dyrholm shows a fair amount of quiet vulnerability as Kate. In the supporting roles, Nicolaj Kopernikus plays the slightly awkward warden well, spurning the romantic intentions of one of his fellow officers in favour of the forbidden fruit that is Kate, and Sonja Richter—who was really good in Open Hearts—turns in another good performance as the downtrodden Marion.

I’ve purposely tried not to give too much away, but suffice to say that although there are allusions to miracles and tests of faith this is not strictly a religious film. Rather it is one that allows you to form your own opinions for the motivations of the characters and of whether the miracles are people just succeeding because someone has given them something to hold on to. A strong, well acted movie that is a little short on humour but more than makes up for that with a story driven by the characters involved.

In Your Hands
Video
Shot on a single DV camera with what is to hand, the Academy ratio (i.e. 1.33:1) picture is generally good but does fall victim to the elements at play in each scene. Detail is almost always good when handling the steady shots and the colour—although muted—is pretty accurate. Flesh tones are realistic and the drab prison surroundings are well represented.

That said, any camera movement at all introduces a fair amount of motion blur and having to rely on the lighting that is present does leave some of the darker scenes lacking in detail. If anything though, this does add to the realism of the film and things are never anywhere near bad enough that you can’t see what is going on.

The subtitles are easily readable—if a little on the small side—and the layer change is well hidden in a holding shot at 1h15m16s in chapter nine. Overall the transfer to DVD is no doubt very faithful to the original presentation—improvements to the picture would, after all, go against the Dogme Manifesto.

Audio
The soundtrack is—to use a common word in these circles—what you could call ‘serviceable’. A plain Danish Stereo track that nonetheless performs its job admirably without the bells and whistles of special effects, the vocals are clear and background noise likewise.

As each shot has to be taken with the one camera, the multitude of cuts in any given scene do sound different. The changes in ambience can sometimes be a little distracting with the two boom microphones picking up the various subtleties in the immediate area depending on where they have been moved to since the last shot. Even so, apart from a few pops at around 5m38s and a little distortion in a bit of shouting at 1h05m in I don’t have any complaints and you are getting exactly what is prescribed on the Dogme tin.

In Your Hands
Extras
A film made with the minimalist approach actually gets a decent portion of additional material to back it up.  All features are presented in non-anamorphic 4:3.

First up, we get a ‘Q & A with Writer/Director Annette K. Olesen’ (32m46s, DD2.0 Stereo English, no subtitles). Chaired by Lizzie Francke at the Curzon Theatre in Soho, London, Ms. Francke and several audience members get the chance ask about the making of the film and discuss the scene that introduces Kate to Anna. Olesen’s—and writing partner Kim Fupz Aakeson’s—approach to the making of the film is discussed at length, and much like the film itself we are left to draw our own conclusions about faith. Let down only by the sometimes indistinct audio, which is accompanied by a constant and annoying microphone hum throughout (as well as some mobile phone interference), it is a worthwhile and informative addition.

Next is a set of interviews with the director and some of the cast. Annette K. Olesen makes another appearance (2m50s) discussing the approach to the film and working with the actors. The cast interviews comprise of Trine Dyrholm (2m26s—although she is credited on the menu as Trine Darham!), Ann Eleonora Jørgensen (4m21s) and Sonja Richter (2m23s). These are very short and concentrate on the actors’ views on their character, the film, and working with the director. The DD2.0 Danish audio is compressed to the point that, while not Dalek-like, it can have the quality of a slightly out of tune radio. Those of us who can’t speak Danish will be pleased that there are burnt-in English subtitles.

Finally, a brief bit of behind-the-scenes footage (7m11s) rounds out the package. This is basically just someone wandering around the filming locations with a camera and we get to see what goes off. This and the interviews are actually a single title on the disc, with the menu allowing you to ‘jump in’ at the selected point.

Not a heck of a lot at first glance, but at just shy of fifty two minutes it does present a meatier proposition than some of the single disc offerings out there. Even with the below par sound quality there is enough information about the development of the film here as to be interesting. However, a commentary would perhaps have been a better forum for a more rounded take, and longer cast interviews and behind the scenes footage would have been nice.

Overall
In Your Hands serves as a fitting end to the ‘official’ Dogme films, although I have no doubt that this and the other forty nine will stand as examples to the minimalist filmmakers and film students out there and prove there is a simple way to make good, honest movies. This and Open Hearts bring different things to the table and other than the Dogme standard can stand apart as solid films. The examination of faith shown here is more thought-provoking than a style that forces opinions down your throat, and the downbeat ending is something that makes the impact of the film that much stronger.

Not a film to see if you want cheering up, but the disc itself backs up a decent presentation of a good film with a few interesting interviews. The sound quality on the extras is a let down though, and a commentary on this style of filmmaking is a missed opportunity.


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