Fathers & Mothers [Fædre & mødre] — Scandinavian Film Festival 2023

Review by John P. Harvey.

Twelve-year-old Hannah (Ida Skelbæk-Knudsen) is going to have to change schools yet again.  Her parents, Ulrik (Jacob Lohmann) and Piv (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal), talk up a prospective new school to her on the basis of its lengthy arts programme, leaving Hannah strangely skeptical.

Once subterfuge has persuaded the new school’s principal, Adrian (Lars Brygmann), to accept Hannah, Ulrik and Piv join the parents of Hannah’s classmates in a class meeting whose dynamics sets the tone for subsequent events.  The parents express sentiments of inclusivity, participation, contribution… yet with an undercurrent of competitiveness, anxiety, perhaps resentment.

And so it is with an almost cultish devotion to saying the right things and being seen to value the right things that the parent group as a whole participates willingly in its own manipulation.

Despite the group’s subtle overarching normalisation ofconformity to conveniently vague ideals, the movie does a fine job of individually characterising a large number of parents, playing various roles in games of oneupmanship that covertly circle the principal, Adrian.  When, a few weeks into the school year, the annual cabin expedition provides an opportunity for the misbehaviour that the images of responsible parents have restrained, many parents’ individual quirks are loosed, and the conflicts underlying their nice behaviour surface.

It would be easy to underestimate the film by taking note only of character arc and plot points; it is less a journey of characters’ conflicts than a journey of the viewer’s understanding.  What Fathers & Mothers at first appears to be masks for a while its real themes.  Foremost amongst them appear to this reviewer to be the prison that is conformity, the locks of hypocrisy, the liberty of honesty.  The film’s physical dramas in themselves signify little.  It’s in its characters’ various attitudes to everyday events that you may recognise a family member, a workplace, or indeed a social consensus to remain silent on the very questions whose frank discussion may be most important. 

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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