The Exception (2020) ****

January 18th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Jesper W. Nielsen; Cast: Danica Curcic, Amanda Collin, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Lene Maria Christensen, Olaf Johannsen, Magnus Krepper, Borut Veselko, Simon Sears; Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2019, 116 min.

Best known for his thrillers Through a Glass, Darkly and The Day Will Come Jesper W. Nielsen is becoming a master of Nordic Noir. His latest thriller is based on Christian Jungersen’s 2004 novel, and adapted by Christian Torpe into a gripping hybrid of crime, horror and a discourse on violence. And although genre purists may disagree, Nielsen directs with skill and confidence. Reality and nightmare twist and turn in a relentless maelstrom of aesthetic brilliance.

The story centres on four women in a Copenhagen NGO (though the film was actually shot in Budapest). Their lives are far from easy: Iben (Curcic) has escaped kidnapping by clever negotiation with one of her Kenyan captors, Malene (Collin) suffers from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and is struggling with a marriage breakdown. Both vy for Gunnar’s attention, and he “is certainly not the marrying kind”. Lene-Maria (Christensen) seems the most sorted of the four, but her affair with Serbian solder Mirko Zigic (Veselko), was probably a mistake – accused of genocide he’s soon the target of Iben and Malene’s latest research project. Librarian Anne-Lise (Knudsen) is the odd one out. Paul (Johannsen) heads up the team, a bit of a cold fish. Meanwhile, Malene and Iben are on the receiving end of suspicious emails and just when their computer specialist is on the case he suffers a fatal fall, and they go missing.

Seen through the eyes of four unreliable narrators the shifts in perspective are simply staggering, forcing us to re-examine the facts as reality spins out of control. And why are these charitable women fighting for a better world, when they are so immersed in guilt, real or imagined?. The Exception avoids easy answers, the perpetrators going back to their everyday lives – without any repercussions.

DoP Erik Zappon’s noirish aesthetic is all cold steel and white: Sidse Babett Knudsen is phenomenal as the haunted outsider, keen to do everything to be a part of the collective. Nielsen never sticks to a formula confronting us with our own self-doubts. The Exception is challenging, often seeming contradictory, but that is exactly what makes it so unique. AS

The Exception will released across all major UK Digital Platforms on 22nd January including iTunesAppleTV, Sky Store, Google Play, Amazon, Virgin, Curzon Home Cinema & Chili (& BT on rental only from 1st Feb)

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