TIFF 2019: RESIN Review – A Bleak Nordic Bildungsroman
Starring Vivelill Søgaard Holm, Peter Plaugborg
Written by Daniel Joseph Borgman
Directed by Daniel Joseph Borgman
Daniel Joseph Borgman enjoys putting his characters in suspended animation. His Danish film’s opening images are those of a man struggling against the water, fighting tooth and nail against an overwhelming element. The man, Jens (Peter Plaugborg) claims to have lost his daughter Liv (Vivelill Søgaard Holm) to the sea. After filing a report with the police he stumbles home in a daze to meet his wife, who twists the narrative with a worried gaze and four words: “Did they believe you?”
So begins Resin, Daniel Borgman’s grim coming-of-age fairytale. Years after faking his daughter’s death, Jans lives in tree-bound seclusion with her (perfectly alive, perhaps not well) and his sick wife Maria (Sofie Gråbøl), removed from the world amid the dense Scandinavian forest. They hunt and forage for their food, wear threadbare clothing, and steal supplies from a nearby pub. To Liv, every day is an adventure, and she feels most at home in the wilderness.
The first words spoken by Liv are, “Dad knows nature. So do I, at least a little bit.” In her eyes, her father is the authority on the world and everyone in it. The problem is that Liv’s only human source of connection to civilization is an unstable, paranoid one. Jans isolates his family from the world. Men arrive with mysterious letters and he shouts them away. His relationship with his daughter seems deep at first: the girl is mostly non-verbal but the pair communicates on a primal level. She talks a lot about “our nature” and how other, dangerous people don’t know themselves– something she’s clearly been taught from a young age.
As Maria increasingly requires medical attention, Jans carefully, lovingly applies tree sap to her bedsores. He makes her tea with nettles, a woefully inadequate fix for her rapidly failing health. Describing the sap which gives the film its title, Liv states, “The tree cries. It’s sticky. We use it to help Mum. It helps her wounds.” Jans describes how the ancient Egyptians used to embalm their dead with the substance, preserving their revered ones forever. Jans preserves his family in amber, entombing a long gone ideal that his loved ones can’t quite live up to. Over the course of the plot, the metaphor is applied to more and more gruesome ends. What begins as an act of unorthodox mourning (quirky, but harmless) slowly mutates into an oozing bog of good intentions that drown anyone who falls victim to it, all in the name of keeping the family safe.
Thematically, Resin features an equally perverse family dynamic as that of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Where Norman Bates keeps his mother’s corpse in the basement and appropriates her identity as his own, Jans puts a stillborn baby in a jar to mummify his soul and keep him with the family forever. Plaugborg is a powerhouse of barely-contained intensity, only balanced by his onscreen counterweight in the impressive young Vivelill Søgaard Holm. With a minimum of words, the two work as a yin and yang of stagnation and growth. Plaugborg’s paranoid stillwater performance is at times tamed by and incensed by Holm’s quiet wonder, a poetic reverence that would otherwise be at home in a Terrence Malick film.
The cinematography does much of the heavy lifting to support the theme, with DP Louise McLaughlin capturing her actors as specimens amid a hauntingly beautiful location. In one sequence, smoke crawls over a pair of bodies as sap would envelop an insect. The camerawork runs opposite of the Ingmar Bergman style that actively engages with the subject in the frame. Instead, McLaughlin and Borgman juxtapose the macabre with the serene, letting the imagery do the work. It makes for jarring moments like that of a child clutching dismembered body parts as she looks upon the setting sun over a lake. The camera is observant without judgment, opting out of the obvious tilt-and-push to the viscera itself and allowing the horror to become an afterthought and an inevitability all at once. This patience borders on tedium, an inevitability when tension is removed from all but the most conflict-heavy moments. In any case, Borgman’s story holds a lot of resonance, a silent ripple effect that continues long after the credits roll. If ever a film embodied the “memento mori” concept, it’s Resin.
Resin documents the inevitable passage of life and death, decay and growth. Its two leads are a quietly simmering tag team of intensity in a patient but unsettling up-ending of the familial unit. Borgman’s family portrait is an observant and macabre one.