“The Young Woman with the Needle”, a grotesque and grotesque fable


Karoline (Victoria Carmen Sonne) in “The Young Lady with a Needle”, by Magnus von Horn. BAC FILMS


Barely launched, the Cannes competition is getting tough with the third feature film by Swede Magnus von Horn, a period fiction with a little sordid climax. The film begins like a true-life novel, focused on the misery of its characters. In Copenhagen, in the aftermath of the First World War, Karolina (Vic Carmen Sonne), a worker in a clothing workshop, sinks into black distress, and a filthy loft, in the absence of a husband who disappeared at the front. He reappears in the guise of a broken face, at the ill-chosen moment when the weaver, pregnant by her boss, was trying to marry him.

But her plans fail, and she now finds herself unemployed with a baby on her hands. She then rings the doorbell of a grocer, Dagmar (Trine Dyrholm), who, secretly, places abandoned infants in foster families. Karolina gets hired as her nanny, becomes her ally, and discovers her frightening scheme to “discard” unwanted kids.

On this basis, inspired by a resounding Danish criminal case from the beginning of the 20the century, the film could have been a heartbreaking melodrama or a terrifying horror film. Magnus von Horn, however, does not rely on emotion any more than on sensation. He prefers the stridencies of a grating fable, readily veering into the grotesque. Upon opening, close to installation artsytortured and seemingly deformed faces follow one another in the image, announcing the disfigured humanity emerging from the Great War.

Sound exaggeration

The film scrupulously unfolds its little manual of descent into hell, linking, in a purely cumulative mode, spineless acts with bouts of violence and bouts of unease, without ever elevating them to the level of tragedy or fear. It must be said that the heroine does not help much, going through the drama with a blank stare, with a passivity and apathy which seem to justify all the forceful passages. The “needle” with which the title associates her takes on several occurrences throughout the drama: that of the loom, that of the knitting machine used for the attempted wild abortion, finally the syringe with which, in desperation, she will inject morphine.

Read the interview (2016): Article reserved for our subscribers Magnus von Horn: “Exploring the dark side of everyone”

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Black and white photography at times summons the cursed contrasts of expressionism, but remains even more willingly in a certain grayness specific to realistic photography or painting. It is more broadly with a form of Scandinavian austerity that the aesthetics of the film seem to dialogue, which Von Horn endorses in order to better mishandle it, in order to make its puritanical and hypocritical foundations explicit.

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