The Captive Of Industry

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When we meet Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen), the sun is, literally and metaphorically, perpetually shining on him. He has a sweet, sexy relationship with his wife, an actress named Maria (Lisa Werlinder), and he owns a chic, prospering restaurant in Stockholm. Best of all, he has escaped his oppressive family and its grim, old-economy business — a Danish steelworks. But then his father commits suicide, leaving the business a mess, with Christoffer as its only possible savior. As he takes up his task, The Inheritance recounts the shutting down of his spirit — or should we say the flowering of his inner monster — in a formally elegant, subtly savage and powerfully affecting film.

Everything Christoffer does to save the business — laying off hundreds of faithful workers, firing a betraying relative, isolating himself from the hugely sympathetic Maria and their child — is perfectly logical, perhaps even necessary for the family and the firm's survival. It is impossible to say exactly when his stoicism becomes a perfect deadness of the soul. All we know is that one day, drunk and abandoned in a vacation villa, he savagely attempts to rape a maid. It is a measure of the film's acuity that that is not the end of Christoffer. When next we see him, he's wearing a suit and tie, entering into a loveless second marriage, allowing himself to be claustrophobically re-enfolded in his family's smothering embrace.

For director Per Fly, Christoffer is a victim, not a villain (the latter role is reserved for his manipulating mother, played by Ghita Norby), and Fly's film suggests that living badly is life's worst revenge. What might redeem The Inheritance's relentless grimness for the incorrigibly light-minded among us is the classic perfection of its imagery (it is full of gates constantly closing on its characters) and its impeccable acting. Werlinder, in particular, is a marvel — shifting from playful to vulnerable to fierce in a matter of seconds as she wages a losing fight for her man. But the best thing about this movie is its sobriety about work. It is something our fictions, on page and screen, used to address regularly and now almost never do. But work is, after all, what most of us do most of the time, and any film that shows how it controls our emotional climate is nowadays a treasurable rarity — especially when it is as good as this one.