TIFF Review: 'As in Heaven' Is a Gripping Meditation on the Fragility of Life Directed by Tea Lindeburg

Starring Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl, Ida Cæcilie Rasmussen, Palma Lindeburg Leth, Anna-Olivia Øster Coakley, Flora Augusta, Kirsten Olesen, Lisbet Dahl, Stine Fischer Christensen, Thure Lindhardt, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt
TIFF Review: 'As in Heaven' Is a Gripping Meditation on the Fragility of Life Directed by Tea Lindeburg
Danish author Marie Bregendahl was known for leaning into the grotesque. Chronicling the day-to-day life of Danish farmers in the 19th century, writer-director Tea Lindeburg adapts the author's work for her debut feature, As in Heaven. Taking Bregendahl's realism and fusing it with the supernatural, Lindeburg presents a visually striking opening scene: a young girl, walking through a field of flowers, looks up as the clouds turn bright red, drops of blood hitting her face. This scene is something natural turned terrifying, like a mother experiencing complicated labour. Fourteen-year-old Lise is about to be a sister again, but there's also a chance that this night could change her life forever.

Lise (Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl) gazes at herself in the mirror. She's preparing to attend school, and she has desire in her eyes – for life, love and everything in between. "God has great plans for you," her mother says, and she wears her mother's silver hair clip in her hair with pride. Then, she loses it. It's interesting to observe how Lindeburg frames the significance around this small item through the film. She loses it just as her mother Anna (Ida Cæcilie Rasmussen) goes into a difficult labour, and no one is sure if she'll make it through. Living on a farm in Denmark's gorgeous countryside, the doctor isn't nearby, and due to religious beliefs and superstitions, Anna refuses to summon him. The film speaks to the harmful consequences of ignorance, especially in regards to medicine. When Lise looks in the mirror a second time, she's now changed and with an uncertain future.

The film is so engrossing. With compelling drama, sound design and the sparkle of old film, you don't even notice the lack of score until Lise's humming signals that this is the closest thing to music that's heard. The performances are superb, especially those of Lindahl and Rasmussen. Lindahl plays Lise with infectious energy and a free spirit, and it's interesting to see how she changes through the course of the narrative while she watches and waits for her mother's fate. Rasmussen has some demanding scenes and she acts them out with force, Lindeburg incorporating Bregendahl's touch of grotesque with imagery. What As in Heaven reminds the audience, in the end, is the mortality of mothers and how we must show appreciation for them while they are still here to comfort us through our nightmares.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (MOTOR)