The first thing to understand here is that I had got it into my head that this was the film version of the Arthur Phillips novel of the same name. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was filmed in Prague so that was a kick, since I recognized so many of the locations, having visited (one of my favourite European cities). This Prague is a city visited by a Danish couple whose 14-year old marriage is foundering on the rocks of emotional distance and infidelity. This Prague is still trying to shake off the stilted atmosphere of Soviet domination, leading to parallels, sometimes elegant and sometimes forced.
Christoffer (Mads Mikkelsen and Maja Stine Stengade) have come to Prague to retrieve the body of his father – a father he has not seen since his 15th birthday, and only rarely before that. Christoffer is a successful lawyer, but a private and uncommunicative husband. The city of Prague, with its gothic old world spires and formality seems to contribute to the (further) dissolution of their marriage.
Although he wants to (as his wife does), Christoffer seems constitutionally unable to save their marriage. The implication is that his father, having left him, and from whom he has rarely heard over the years, seems to have shut down Christoffer emotionally, leaving him unable to connect with others. There are some revelations about his father that begin to open doors, but too little too late.
This is a perfect part of the great Mads Mikkelsen, with his chiseled stone features, he projects just the right forbidding and stoic face to the world, while all the while we can sense the pain underneath. The film itself is brooding and sometimes gut wrenching, but a vein of cross-cultural humor does exist. On the one hand, there’s the miscommunication between the Danish couple and their Czech hosts: at one point as Maja unpacks in their hotel room, she realizes she needs an adaptor for her computer, calls for one and is brought an ironing board instead. But on the other hand, when he visits an old house that his father has left him, he finds that there is a family of sorts living there, Alena (Jana Plodková), along with her young daughter. There is the same inability to understand each other (the language barrier), but they quickly learn to cope and grow fond of one another.
The film has an open-ended, yet satisfying conclusion. Top notch acting and well worth-while, although I don’t usually go in for this sort of cinema.