A Horrible Woman (2017)
A question many viewers may have on leaving A Horrible Woman (2017)is whether the film’s title is meant to be ironic or judgemental. Today’s gender politics make such questions inescapably loaded but this film can also be read as a portrait of perfect complementarity between the sexes.
A simple plotline keeps the focus on its two principal characters. Likeable bachelor Rasmus (Anders Juul) envies his friends’ long-term relationships yet values his freedom until he meets the beautiful, vivacious, and interested Marie (Amanda Collin). They are well matched: she is forward and assertive, he is quiet and compliant. Each time she advances into his emotional space, he yields ground. She moves into his apartment and changes everything, while he squirms but is powerless to act.
We observe the story through two frames: one is through the eyes of friends who envy Rasmus his good fortune; the other is through his own diminishing sense of self. The more she deploys femininity to manipulate him the more he meekly acquiesces. In two different scenes, asMarie reaches new thresholds of control, she makes eye contact with us, the viewer, in a “look at what I can do” moment. Chillingly, this conscious duplicity may also be a signal of mental illness and it leaves no doubt that Marie is conscious of her power. Rather than sympathise with her victim, his weakness tempts us to think he deserves what she dishes out. The story takes a few twists and turns through his attempts to stand up to her, but his efforts are not enough to alter the narrative arc of his emasculation.
What are we to make of this unusual film? The director has been attacked as a misogynist, but the recognisability of Rasmus and Marie and their complementary characteristics makes this a broader study of relationships, rather than just another gender battle. They could have swapped gender and the story would play out with as much veracity, but perhaps less entertainment. If this is a valid litmus test, then the film rises above gender discourse.
The performances of the two stars are exemplary. Amanda Collins excels across her repertoire of feminine wiles while Anders Juul is her perfect guileless pawn. The filming style is claustrophobic Nordic domestic drama, with enough black humour to lighten its load. This entertaining study of gender roles makes you wonder how the planet has survived so long.
Sydney Film Festival 2018
Dirctor: Christian Tafdrup
Stars: Amanda Collins, Anders Juul