“Someone You Love,” the latest film from Danish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen, centers on the complicated, though universal issue of family, and everything that that entails — love, heartbreak and hope. Even for someone who seems to have a charmed life, you can’t escape family, and the responsibilities, joys, and drama along with it.
Thomas Jacob (Mikael Persbrandt) is an aging rockstar, slipping into his quieter older years as gracefully as he can. He’s got a highly controlled, comfortably appointed set up in Denmark (he’s in from LA) where he’s recording new material with his long time collaborator Molly (Trine Dryholm). He’s got this kind of controlled set up because he’s a recovering addict, his only leftover vice a penchant for smokes (and the nicotine stained voice to match). The women in his life, his manager Kate, his housekeeper, Molly, all create an easy, affectionate and stress-free atmosphere for him, though there’s one woman in his life who can rattle his cage — his daughter, Julia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen).
He tries to placate her, and his grandson Noa (Sofus Rønnov), with money, but one day she shows up needing more than that. Julia’s inherited her father’s issue with substances, and her job is sending her to rehab for six weeks. She’s got no one to leave Noa with except for him, and suddenly Thomas becomes the kind of hands-on caretaker he never was or expected to be.
Thomas falls into an easy companionship and grandfatherly role with Noa, teaching him guitar, sharing laughs and snowball fights. However, though he excels when it’s easy, he fails when it’s hard, and all too soon, he and Noa have to face a life-altering event, causing Thomas to run, hide and avoid his problems, a technique that would have been easier for him back in his drinking days, but now that he’s clear-eyed, prove excruciating.
Persbrandt’s performance as Thomas is compelling in that he perfectly embodies the slowing down but still magnetic rock star; a man who has regained his composure and control, though turmoil still bubbles just below the surface. When that emotion and anger breaks through, it’s startling; sharp and explosive, rattling him as much as it does us or the people around him. His steely ice-blue gaze is matched, unwavering, by Rønnov, as Noa, refusing to look away or let the one adult he can depend on off the hook. Their looks at each other drive much of their relationship, where they don’t vocalize much, saying almost everything with their eyes.
The cinematography is naturalistic, never intruding too far on the personal story, just capturing the cool natural beauty of Denmark in winter, and the lavish home in which Thomas has settled. When everything in the film seems cool and still, the flashes of human emotion spark and crackle on screen, the ebb and flow of the drama infrequently, but powerfully breaking the surface.
A nice counterpoint to the heavy material and measured pace is the music that Thomas is recording with Molly — earthy, ethereal, otherworldly but also deeply familiar. Persbrandt’s voice and style is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, and you can see that in performance is when Thomas lets his guard down, feels happy and at ease.
A resonant story of family struggles, personal choice, and doing the right thing, all the the themes hit home with viewers at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where “Someone You Love” won the Audience Award for International Feature. There’s no doubt that with these universal themes, finely executed, and a strong performance by Persbrandt, that the film will continue to resonate. [B+]