The family reunion drama where a tight-knit clan get together to affirm their mutual devotion or, more often nowadays, to indulge in recrimination and bloodletting, has had quite a revival lately. It has culminated in the triumphant success of Festen, the stage version of Thomas Vinterbergâ€™s film of the same title. A new Danish movie, Per Flyâ€™s â€˜Inheritanceâ€™, is set in the same haut-bourgeois milieu and features the same leading actor. But it belongs to a different branch of movies about family life, what one might call the drama of familial recuperation.
In these stories, a rebellious figure seeking to distance himself from an oppressive family is drawn back by duty and obligation and has his life permanently changed. The best-known cinematic examples are George Bailey failing to escape from Bedford Falls in â€˜Itâ€™s a Wonderful Lifeâ€™ and Michael Corleone forced to give up his freedom and become head of the family in â€˜The Godfatherâ€™.
In â€˜Inheritanceâ€™, Ulrich Thomsen, an actor with a disconcerting resemblance to Charles Kennedy, plays Christoffer, the only son of a rich Danish steel magnate. Rejecting the starchy upper-class ambience in which he grew up and the industrial world for which he was reared, he has left Denmark for Sweden to run a smart restaurant in Stockholm and marry an attractive young actress with the Swedish national theatre. Sheâ€™s played by the entrancing Lisa Werlinder, who happens to be a leading actress with the Royal Dramatic Theatre. Suddenly, this idyllic life is shattered by the suicide of his father who, it transpires, has concealed the firmâ€™s serious debts. Back home for the funeral, Christoffer comes under severe pressure from his mother (Ghita NÃ¸rby, the Scandinavian cinemaâ€™s matriarch from hell) to run the firm. He has promised his wife not to succumb, but facing a sea of several hundred multicoloured hard hats on a factory floor beneath him, he is suddenly overcome by a sense of moral responsibility. Shocking his wife and his brother-in-law, who had expected to head the firm, Christoffer announces that heâ€™ll assume the chairmanship for the next two years. There ensues much fascinating professional and domestic drama, in the boardroom and bedroom, on the shop floor and in negotiations with a French steel company, a merger that will save the Danish firm.
The bitter brother-in-law starts scheming against him. The conniving matriarch decides that a handsome, conformist divorcee would be a more suitable partner for Christoffer than his Swedish wife. Forced to act ruthlessly, firing devoted employees at the insistence of his new French colleagues, he gradually changes.
Depending on how you view it, heâ€™s either a decent man corrupted by doing his duty or an immature man coming to terms with the realities of life. Except for a rather wild scene when he cracks up in an empty mansion in the south of France, Thomsen is wholly persuasive in the way he involves us in his dilemma and heâ€™s admirably supported in a moving, truly adult film.