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Published April 28th, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

In Your Hands Review

Classification: 15 Director: Annette K. Olesen Rating: 4/5

The Danish film industry has been enjoying something of a renaissance in the last ten years, spearheaded by enfant terrible Lars Von Trier, Greek god Thomas Vinterberg, Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, Kristian Levring and the Dogme movement they created. Dogme is now officially dead, with its most famous proponents having moved on to new challenges, but some films are still being released under its banner, and In Your Hands (Dogme 34) is one of them.

Anna (Jorgensen), a newly qualified priest, lives happily though childlessly with her husband Frank (Ranthe). A friend of Anna’s is chaplain at the local prison, and when he falls sick, recommends her to take over his position on a temporary basis. Anna is nervous but intrigued by the challenges and contradictions of working as spiritual advisor to criminals. On her first morning, she encounters a new transfer to the prison, the mysterious Kate (Dyrholm). Kate is extremely reserved, but this does not prevent her becoming the subject of various rumours, which are confirmed when one of the inmates, Marion (Richter) seeks Kate’s help with overcoming her drug addiction.

Hearing the stories, Anna is interested in getting to know Kate, but Kate is in her turn drawn to Henrik (Kopernikus), a quiet prison guard who seems to understand her and offers her glimpses of a normality that she had almost forgotten. Then Anna finds out that against all the odds she is pregnant. She and Frank are thrilled until they discover that the foetus has a chromosome defect. The outcome cannot be predicted – the child could be brain-damaged, physically disabled or both.

With time running out, Anna’s faith is rocked. Should she choose to have an abortion, to keep the baby and trust in God, or place herself and her unborn child in Kate’s hands?

In Your Hands is a serious and thought-provoking film looking at faith, love, motherhood and the roles of women. It sets up the two heroines as opposites – Anna, the holy, dark-haired spiritual advisor, isolated by the dark robes and Elizabethan ruff of her office; Kate, the sinner, blonde, always in cream and white, with no official status, the lowest of the low, and yet with more natural authority than Anna, with all her intellectual understanding, can imagine. We see how awkwardly Anna moves to comfort Marion, while Kate touches people much more naturally, despite her reserve, and also offers practical assistance when Marion needs help. But Anna is happy enough in her role, growing into it gradually, reaching out to the prisoners one by one, until the unthinkable happens and she finds out that she is pregnant.

God’s cruellest joke, it seems, is to give her a baby with one hand and take it away with the other, and in the meantime she is forced to work with whores and junkies who have children as easily and carelessly as a cat has kittens. Her husband, Frank, up till then a source of strength and support, falls apart under the pressure, only wanting to know what most couples do in the circumstances, but not willing to talk to Anna. Life isn’t fair, and Anna collapses under the strain. Desperation drives her to actions with disastrous consequences for all.

Partly filmed on location in a real prison, the film is all claustrophobic interiors – the hospital, Anna and Frank’s apartment, and the prison itself. Conversations are overheard, glimpses caught of people through windows, or the bars of the prison stairwell, and the sense of being trapped in their lives intensifies as the film goes on. Anna and Frank’s decision is heartbreaking, though I did question the 10% likelihood of the baby being abnormal – this seemed like a low enough risk for them to take a chance, especially as Anna had not thought she could conceive. But Anna’s guilt and rage at even contemplating an abortion is part of what drives her; she readily thanks God for giving her a child, but cannot find the faith to believe that a damaged baby is part of his plan for her. Kate also carries a burden of guilt, and is terrifyingly vulnerable under her reserved exterior, but tries to absolve herself of her sin by helping others.

Adhering to the Dogme manifesto of natural lighting and no incidental music, the film has an almost documentary feel enhanced by the wonderfully natural performances, horrid clothes and lack of make-up. Highly recommended.

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