The Curse of "The Blessing" By Nathan Lee

in 32nd Goteborg International Film Festival

by Nathan Lee

In awarding our prize to The Blessing (Velsignelsen), the debut film by writer-director Heidi Maria Faisst, the FIPRESCI jury of the 32nd Goteborg International Film Festival wrestled with an exhausting glut of bad vibes, damaged souls, and unrelenting melancholy. Granted, one expects a certain amount of gloomy psychological cinema from the land of Bergman, but the competition was inordinately weighted toward bummers. House of Fools (De Gales Hus) and Guidance were predicated on chronic depression and its treatment. In Your Veins (I skuggan av värmen) followed the ups and downs, but mostly downs — way downs — of a heroin addict. As for The Visitor (Muukalainen), its lushly stylized oppression could largely be attributed to a ponderous, sub-Tarkovsky mannerism as opposed to any legitimate social or psychic crisis.

Amidst such pervasive anguish, The Blessing distinguished itself with the rigor of its filmmaking, conceptual circumspection, and novelty of theme. Katrine (Lærke Winther Anderson) has given birth to a daughter, Rosa. But something feels wrong. At first, this appears to be a matter of unexplained tensions involving her chilly, regal mother (Solbjørg Højfeldt). Uninvited to the hospital during her 8-hour labor and delivery, the mother soon turns up at their home, ratcheting up the tension. Katrine, seeking a spell of quiet and solitude, gives husband Andreas (Mads Riisom) her blessing to leave for a short business trip — and immediately plunges into an inexplicable unease, mounting to panic. Mom is called to the house in a desperate plea for help and company, but no one, and nothing, will be able to succor Katrine in the days to come.

Katrine, it seems, is gripped by an enigmatic aversion to her child and the role of motherhood itself. Rosa is ignored, feared, briefly abandoned. Swimming in doubt, Katrine begins to drown, rejecting her family and sinking into some implacable aversion to her new identity. Katrine, verging closer and closer to hysteria, flees from home, is pursued, and retrieved. The Blessing suggests a realist riff on Rosemary’s Baby in which the diabolical conspiracy is inside.

This condition has a name: postpartum depression, a chronic malaise known to afflict up to 25% of women to varying degrees of severity. Katrine has a very severe case indeed, although the key to The Blessing’s boldness is its refusal to specify or diagnose her problem in medical or psychological terms.

Thus, if The Blessing is an example of “social problem” cinema, addressed to postpartum depression, it only functions as such implicitly. The cause of Katrine’s troubling actions may be diagnosed from without; within the film itself, her actions take on a provocative ambiguity. The Blessing eschews an interior, psychological strategy for an external, behavioral study. The tensions between Katrine and her mother are a tease, a psychological MacGuffin. A less film would have unloaded these unnamed tensions in a cathartic or confrontational dénouement. The Blessing ends, not so simply, with Katrine staring out a hospital window in the half-light of a wintry afternoon. The power of The Blessing is precisely in refusing to explain its drama, placing the viewer in a position to judge Katrine’s actions while simultaneously respecting her inviolable, unknowable subjectivity.