In Your Hands Review
Depending on how exact you wish to be, In Your Hands is either the tenth or 34th film to be made under the Dogme 95 banner and much publicised as the last. Directed and co-written by Annette K. Olesen, who had previously helmed the Dogme-esque Minor Mishaps, it injects a slight twist into the format by flirting with the supernatural. Ostensibly a prison drama, it concerns Anna, a newly anointed priest temporarily filling in a post at a Danish establishment, and Kate, a new inmate rumoured to have had “a visit from God” and now in possession of healing powers. When the former miraculously falls pregnant – miraculously because she has been informed that such an event could never happen – the two women’s lives become more greatly entwined than either could have expected.
During the Q&A session included on the disc as an extra, Olesen notes how she genuinely believes people such as Kate exist, though admittedly she is vague as to their “powers”. However, this belief would appear to be firm enough that In Your Hands stays strictly within the confines of realism. As a result anyone hoping for a Dogme effort which plays with more overtly generic conventions (after all, Von Trier has always said that rules are there to be broken) may come away disappointed, but then we do get a Dogme prison movie.
Unsurprisingly, it is here where In Your Hands and the inherent realism of the manifesto come into their own. Rather than the overfamiliar clichés or potboiling nature of everything from 20,000 Years in Sing Sing to The Last Castle, the film instead strips these away and pares down such devices in order to ensure a singular focus on character. Indeed, the setting is often simply that; a means of providing a situation upon which the filmmakers can build. Even the brief précis given above it can be seen that In Your Hands’ setup is an intriguing one – indeed Olesen and her cast are able to gain plenty of mileage from it. The director has repeatedly stated in interviews here and elsewhere that her film is one about faith, but it is through the performances rather than the themes where it finds its strength.
Trine Dyrholm has the toughest role inasmuch as she has to communicate her character’s innate power (after all, if Olesen believes then so should we), yet she does so with incredible strength. Watching her more animated self during the interview which appears on the disc it becomes ever more apparent just how still she is throughout the picture; it takes 30 minutes for face to register even a flicker of emotion and understandably the effect is remarkably powerful. Moreover, it’s a performance which is clearly part of an ensemble rather than a standout in its right. Had those around her not been so much more approachable, amenable or even just plain definable, then no doubt her character would lose some of her force.
There is another reason why the acting comes across as more important, however, and that’s because Olesen struggles to maintain narrative interest as she heads towards a conclusion. There’s always been an Achilles’ heel to the Dogme manifesto inasmuch as its disavowal of genre cinema can almost inevitable lead filmmakers down the road to melodrama. Consider the closing scenes to The Idiots and Julien Donkey-Boy or the various revelations throughout Festen and this becomes clear. Indeed, Italian for Beginners stands out as the most consistent effort as it turns away from such sensationalism. As for In Your Hands its dramatic developments increasingly bend towards the more easily attained during the final stages. Of course, the drama needs to take shape, yet to do so in such obvious patterns (though I shouldn’t reveal these as it would spoil the enjoyment of anyone who is yet to see the film) means that interest slowly dissipates. Indeed, the actual ending has the flavour of Hollywood moralising which comes as quite a surprise considering the setup. That said, the acting remains a strong point even during these concluding moments, but it’s a shame that Olesen lets the film slip out of her hands before she can reach the end.
In Your Hands comes to the UK DVD market as a Region 2 disc courtesy of Metrodome. In accordance with the rules of Dogme it was recorded in the Academy ratio and with basic Dolby sound, both of which are ably recreated for the disc. The image does lack definition, especially in the blacks, and can seem overtly grainy, but then this is wholly the result of the filmmaking process (another of the Dogme rules is that the film should only be shot in available light) and by no means a technical flaw. Likewise, the soundtrack is technically sound with any faults coming courtesy of the original recording.
As for extras, this particular disc comes with a UK exclusive Q&A session with Olesen. Recorded at the Curzon Cinema, London from a single, static video camera, the director chats (in English) with critic Lizzie Franke about the film, its themes and production. Though the sound isn’t perfect owing to the manner in which it was filmed, the piece makes for an interesting half hour especially as the director never need pushing to discuss her work. Indeed, Franke actually asks very few questions but is each time treated to a lengthy, and occasionally digressional, response. This piece also includes a clip from the film itself, though note that it is accompanied with burnt-in subtitles, and concluded with five or so minutes of questions from the audience.
Also present on the disc are seven minutes worth of B-roll footage which gives some insight into Olesen’s methods, plus a briefer interview and similar pieces for the three major cast members (see sidebar). Unsurprisingly, with durations ranging from two to four minutes, these latter pieces are contain less depth than the Q&A session and can only begin to touch on the film’s various ideas, but then the extra input is welcome and of course can never outstay their welcome given their shortness. Note also, that all these pieces are in the Danish language and come with burnt-in subtitles.