The following is a review of Før Frosten (also known as ‘Before the Frost‘) — Directed by Michael Noer.
Før Frosten is Michael Noer’s fifth narrative feature film. Noer, whose last feature film was the remake of Papillon starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek, has returned to his native country to make a dirty and cold period drama about the pursuit of happiness and survival in 19th Century Denmark.
In Før Frosten, Jesper Christensen plays Jens, a 19th Century Danish farmer who is running out of time as winter is fast approaching. His crops are dying, his social status is on the decline, and he fears that he is unable to feed his family, which consists of him, his teenage-daughter Signe (played by Clara Rosager) and his two nephews.
Though hard-edged and, at times, cruel, Jens is eager to please his family. Though one deal with a neighboring farm isn’t to his liking, he eventually agrees to it to please his daughter. But when this outcome will inevitably lead to a less-than-desirable life for his nephews much to the displeasure of his young daughter, he backs out of the deal.
When he gets a taste for the sweet life, Jens agrees to sell his land, his farm, and his daughter’s hand in marriage to the wealthy Swedish landowner, Gustav (played by Magnus Krepper), in exchange for a good life for his entire family. When tragedy strikes and emotions run high, we find out just how far Jens is willing to go to give his daughter the best life possible.
Før Frosten, which had its world premiere at numerous film festivals in 2018, has already won a small handful of awards at festivals in Tokyo and Chicago. It is not hard to see why this film has resonated with so many people. I am of the opinion that this might be Michael Noer’s most accomplished feature film, and it is thus a remarkable return to form after the disappointing and dull Papillon-remake.
And Noer owes most of his success here to Danish screen legend Jesper Christensen (non-Scandinavian audiences know him best as ‘Mr. White’ in the Daniel Craig James Bond-films) who delivers what might be his finest performance of his career. Though this film is a hard sell to anyone outside of Scandinavia, his performance is so deeply felt that he has been awarded with Best Actor-awards at festivals in both Japan and the United States.
It is a tour-de-force physical performance from Christensen who gets into the muddy Danish ground to harness his character’s undeniably felt determination. Jens, a morally-challenged character, truly gives it his all for his family and the hardship is written all over Christensen’s face.
Though Jens may grow to admire his fancy new hats in the mirror, he may not be able to recognize himself at the end of the film. Christensen’s performance makes his character equal parts inhumane and caring — that you may find yourself conflicted as to whether or not you should root for him at multiple times from start to finish is a testament to Christensen’s compelling work here.
Før Frosten is the kind of film that will make you feel dirty when the final credits start to roll both due to the inhumane character decisions but also due to the period-appropriate sets and locations. It is a testament to the excellent cinematography and camerawork that the images made me instinctively feel cold inside the closed theater even though I was wearing a warm hoodie.
Though seemingly realistic and authentic, there were a couple of times when I did question the film’s writing. Some of the characters felt severely underwritten, some of the dialogue felt too heavy-handed, and you should be able to see the narrative twists coming from a mile away.
Nevertheless, Michael Noer’s Før Frosten is an impressive Danish period drama that is buoyed up by an engrossing and deeply felt performance from Danish screen legend Jesper Christensen.
8 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.
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