As winter approaches in rural 1850s Denmark, an old farmer (Jens) and his family face starvation. With the harsh circumstances and the prospect of yet another tough winter, Jens agrees to ally with the neighbor family in a marriage between his daughter and their son. However, when the rich farmer at a nearby farm wants to buy Jens's land, he sees a chance to provide him and his family with an even better life.
FØR FROSTEN - (Before the frost) Film (Denmark 2018)
How's this for an enticing movie premise - The consequences for principled ageing widowed male head of family in the face of 18th Century agricultural poverty in Denmark? Despite this bleak set up, I was prepared to give it a go. What I got was really not what I expected.
Our old proud small-hold farmer is slowly being squeezed out of providing for his family by entrepreneurial land-buyers who can pick off his assets whenever times get grim. At a certain point our hero cracks and succumbs to their offers to buy his land and in return they give him a foreman's job which reinstates the status within the local village which he had been gradually losing. This seems even more painful to him than the hunger and the grinding poverty. Basically it is vanity that gets him, and, from that moment on, we see a drama played out in which he comes to discard almost every principle and moral he ever possessed.
Patently this is a metaphor for how modernity and cold commercial realities can corrupt and deprave even the most earthed and tenaciously worthy of characters. Beyond that, though, it is a meditation on how easy one can fall prey to human failings when worth, respect, and indignity blend to cloud the thoughts of an ageing soul.
This is an almost biblical small film, containing decent controlled acting, gritty filming, and buckets of atmosphere. There is certainly no sentimental element, in contrast it deliberately plays the harsh card. This is probably what saves a film that does have a few flaws: It felt like the plot was rushed, perhaps through the clumsy editing-out of helpful linking scenes, so that the stacking up of moments of moral descent seem to almost stumble over each other, to a point of incredulity. Plus there are just one too many rural movie cliches, such as the obligatory cow struggling to give birth to a breached calf, pails of water being futilely thrown onto a blazing barn, and a pastoral wedding filled with tension and mixed feelings.
Ultimately though this film is almost laughingly serious, and doom-laden. There is almost no humour within the story, and so, one finds oneself adding one's own fun in by first totting up the body count, then wondering whether this is actually a Gothic horror pic disguised as a period drama, or pondering if there are actually any pleasant or likeable characters in this movie at all.
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