A young Danish restaurateur, living a happy life with his actress wife in Stockholm, is called back to Denmark to save his late father’s ailing steel business and loses his soul–and most of his family–as a result of the steps he takes to do so in Per Fly’s “The Inheritance,” a dour Danish version of “Dynasty” without the gloss and glamour but with subtitles.
Ulrich Thomsen plays Christoffer, who together with his wife Maria (Lisa Werlinder) is pleased when Aksel (Ulf Pilgaard), his businessman father, stops by for a brief visit. But soon afterward he receives word that Aksel has killed himself, and when he returns home for the funeral he learns from his mother Annelise (Ghita Norby) and the firm’s financial chief Niels (Peter Steen) that their company is on the verge of collapse and that he must take it over and rescue it from ruin. Christoffer is initially reluctant to do so, especially since Maria is opposed to the idea, but pressured by his mother and feeling a responsibility to the long-time workers, he eventually agrees, in the process infuriating his sister Benedikte (Karina Skands), whose husband Ulrik (Lars Brygmann) had anticipated succeeding to the leadership of the firm he’s worked at for fifteen years. Before long Christoffer has had to take unpleasant decisions, firing Ulrik for disloyalty and thereby alienating Benedikte from him and his mother. He’s also slashed the work force in order to make the company more attractive to a French manufacturer looking for a merger partner. As, working in tandem with Niels and urged on by Annelise, he becomes more callous, his relationship with Maria deteriorates, even after they have a son; and in the end she leaves him with the child to resume life in Stockholm. By the end Christoffer has become everything he’s always despised. He’s succeeded in accomplishing the merger, but is not only alone but brutalized–one condition of the deal is that he has to fire even the ultra-loyal Niels, and the depths to which he’s sunk are demonstrated by his drunken assault on a maid at a French villa he’s rented for a vacation. His only remaining support is Annelise, who–it turns out–is the most manipulative person on the scene, a sort of Lady Macbeth whose instrument has been a son rather than a husband.
The performances in “The Inheritance” are all sound enough, though hardly exceptional but for the strong-willed Annelise of Norby; and the production, with gritty photography by Harald Gunnar Paalgard, is good. What sinks the film is Fly’s script, which simply doesn’t offer any special insight into what is a fairly obvious dilemma. In the broadest sense it’s about, as Fly himself has said, the tension between what one would like to do and what one has to do–about the difficult choices one has to make in life, always within a context of conflicting demands. That’s certainly an important and powerful theme. The problem is that this dramatization of it seems rather like a boardroom soap opera about a family-owned company–not terribly unlike a “Dynasty” or a “Dallas.” It’s much more serious and self-important than they were, of course, but in a way that’s a drawback, since it seems that in order to show the dolorous effect of being forced into the most brutally capitalist mindset Fly has felt it necessary to eliminate even the slightest trace of humor or good spirits from the lives he’s depicting. Simply put, “The Inheritance” is as grim and forbidding as the most gloomy Scandinavian film ever made–a portrait of existence among the industrial bourgeoisie that, in its own way, is as depressing and dank as anything Ingmar Bergman set to film. Still, one could accept all that willingly if the picture followed a less predictable trajectory than it does. In the final analysis, Fly has managed to draw a technically skillful portrait of the personal and familial unhappiness that can attend big business, but there’s not much emotional or intellectual reward in watching it.