Birthday Girl review – Trine Dyrholm shines in intense mother-daughter cruise ship drama

Birthday Girl review – Trine Dyrholm shines in intense mother-daughter cruise ship drama

Trine Dyrholm, a name synonymous with excellence in European cinema, delivers a powerhouse performance in the gripping drama “Birthday Girl.” While she may not be a household name outside Denmark, her work in films like “Festen,” “In Your Hands,” and “In a Better World” has cemented her reputation as one of the finest actors in Nordic cinema. Known for her ability to portray complex, troubled women, Dyrholm’s role in “Birthday Girl” is no exception.

Directed by Michael Noer, “Birthday Girl” is a tightly woven melodrama that delves into the murky waters of a crime that will undoubtedly spark post-viewing discussions. Dyrholm plays Nanna, a working-class Danish woman with a penchant for blonde hair extensions and false eyelashes. Nanna is determined to mend her strained relationship with her daughter, Cille, played by Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl. Since her divorce, Cille has been living with her wealthy father, leaving Nanna yearning for a closer bond.

As a special treat for Cille’s 18th birthday, Nanna books a Caribbean cruise for herself, Cille, and Cille’s best friend, Lea, portrayed by Maja Ida Thiele. The cruise, a floating resort known for its cheap booze and indulgent atmosphere, sets the stage for the unfolding drama. On the night of Cille’s birthday, Nanna allows the girls to drink the alcohol she procured for them. As the night progresses and the alcohol flows, tensions rise, leading to arguments and fights. Nanna eventually leaves the girls to their own devices, choosing to flirt and smoke weed with a crew member.

The night takes a dark turn when it becomes apparent that Cille has been raped. Overwhelmed with guilt and horror, Nanna is determined to seek justice for her daughter. However, Cille, traumatized by the incident, is reluctant to report the crime. The crew, seemingly more interested in maintaining the ship’s reputation than pursuing justice, complicates matters further. The crime, having occurred in international waters, adds another layer of complexity to the situation. In an attempt to placate Nanna and the girls, the crew offers them a cabin upgrade, hoping they will remain silent. But Nanna, relentless in her pursuit of justice, refuses to be silenced.

Cinematographer Adam Wallensten captures the intensity of Nanna’s quest with a camera that often follows the back of Dyrholm’s head as she navigates the ship’s eerily lit corridors. Her determination leads her to barge into restricted areas, demanding to speak to the captain, referred to ominously as the “master” by the crew. The suspense builds with each step Nanna takes, although some of the morally complex twists introduced towards the film’s end may feel a bit contrived.

Despite these narrative choices, Dyrholm’s performance, along with the strong supporting cast, particularly Hofmann Lindahl, elevates the film. “Birthday Girl” manages to offer a nuanced exploration of sexual assault and the dynamics of female relationships, whether between a mother and daughter or between peers.

In a film landscape often dominated by male-centric narratives, “Birthday Girl” stands out for its focus on female experiences and the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. Dyrholm’s portrayal of Nanna is both raw and compelling, capturing the desperation and determination of a mother fighting for her daughter’s justice. The film’s setting on a cruise ship, a place of supposed leisure and escape, contrasts sharply with the dark events that unfold, adding to the film’s tension and emotional impact.

“Birthday Girl” is a testament to Dyrholm’s talent and the power of storytelling that doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. It is a film that will leave audiences reflecting on the issues it raises long after the credits roll.

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