Over the space of a weekend, Esther (Ghita Nørby) gatheres her family around her for one last get together. The family is all too aware that this is the last weekend they will spend with their ill mother, but – in the way of families – it is not long before old tensions and new fears rise to the surface.
Much like the recent Still Alice, Silent Heart focuses on the mother of a family as she approaches her final days. Unlike Alice, however, Esther is given the chance to end her suffering on her own terms, and spend time with her family before its too late.
Ghita Nørby as the elderly but powerful Esther is the emotional heart of the film; Esther is the reason the family have come together, and the fact that this is her last weekend before she voluntarily ends her life looms over the entire film. Ghita Nørby manages the role with grace, making Esther a caring and gentle mother, but a determined and utterly human woman. Paprika Steen plays Esther’s eldest daughter Heidi as a woman with the idea that she, not her mother, is the head of the family; controlling and often overbearing, Steen’s performance is strong, and nicely balances out Danica Curcic as the more emotional and troubled Sanne. The rest of the cast is made up of Jens Albinus, Morten Grunwald and Vigga Bro.
Christian Torpe’s story sets the characters up in the family home, then throws comflict and secrets at them since they cannot – or will not – escape. The story is a balance between logic and emotion, between knowing what is the right thing to do but not wanting to do it for selfish reasons. There are some lovely moments, however, as the family reconnect over a joint, or finally have the conversations they never did. Torpe’s story is also filled with brutally honest conversations; confessions of fear and selfish arguments pepper the film.
Bille August handles the film well, turning it from a tale that could potentially be dark and painful into what feels like an honest representation of relationships; in laughter there is sadness, and in tragedy there is humour. There is a careful balance created on screen that works well. As well as this, there are plenty of emotional gut-punches, and quiet revelations. That said, there are no real surprises here, and the one that is framed as such feels a little predictable and familiar.
In all, Silent Heart is a beautifully shot film about a tough subject. The cast do incredibly well with the delicate subject matter and Christian Torpe’s screenplay feels honest and engaging.