‘Rose’ Review: A Heartening Depiction of Mental Illness

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Rose (2022) © Bankside Films
Rose (2022) © Bankside Films

Niels Arden Oplev returns with a warm-hearted, if somewhat unadventurous, story about memory, sisterhood and mental illness.

★★★☆☆

After a brief and unsuccessful foray into English-language cinema with 2013’s Dead Man Down and a 2017 Flatliners remake, Niels Arden Oplev seems more at home working in his native Danish. Although in Rose it doesn’t take long for us to leave the Nordic country, as our characters cross two borders on a highly anticipated coach journey to Paris. Based on the director’s own family experiences, this road-tripping comedy-drama takes us on journeys both physical and spiritual.

Once the coach from Denmark to Paris has set off and its passengers begin to introduce themselves, Inger (Sofie Gråbøl) is unabashed in sharing that she suffers from schizophrenia. She is travelling with her sister Ellen (Lene Maria Christensen) and brother-in-law Vagn (Anders W. Berthelsen), on a trip their mother disapproves of. Ellen is eager to bring Inger back to a country she once knew—indeed, she speaks fluent French—and to show her that she is capable of more than she thinks. However, social stigma, Inger’s demons and an ulterior motive for visiting Paris cause clashes with her family and new acquaintances.

“I feel like strangling you,” Inger tells one fellow traveller early on, a declaration that becomes a catchphrase of sorts. The response: “Can it wait ‘til after lunch?” Such is the tone of Rose, a far cry from the bleakness of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with which Oplev made his name, or of his last film Daniel, the true story of an ISIS hostage. While Inger’s condition is treated with the utmost respect, so often there’s that glint in the eye, an affectionate comic counterbalance that keeps things mercifully breezy.

Rose, Nordisk Film

Gråbøl and Christensen make for a charming central duo, the former portraying Inger with empathy, dignity and a sense of humour necessary for a character of such quick wit. Perhaps the most interesting contrast between the two sisters, whose lives have taken such different paths, is their physicality. Inger is hunched and slightly hobbling, her pale face, thin frame and scraggly hair all unspoken signifiers of an underlying fragility. Meanwhile, Ellen is a more headstrong, elegant figure, she and her husband fitting in seamlessly with their fellow middle-class passengers. Speaking of which, The Killing and Borgen star Søren Malling is excellent as the stuffy schoolteacher Andreas, his bourgeois prejudice and emotional repression often the source of comic relief as his conservative world collides with the chaos of Inger’s.

The relationship between Inger and Andreas’s young son Christian (Luca Reichardt Ben Coker) is perhaps the film’s most touching dynamic. Throughout trips to the Musée d’Orsay, Versailles and the D-Day landing beaches, Inger becomes an alternative mentor of sorts, offering Christian advice and knowledge of the things his uptight parents daren’t broach. Despite appearances, we learn that Christian’s family is as complicated and dysfunctional as Inger’s. It’s moving to see the pair, whose lives have both been stunted in their own ways, broaden each other’s understanding of the world with love and humour.

Rose, Nordisk Film

Warm and affirming though this all is, Rose does lack a bit of bite. The transgressiveness of Oplev’s previous work is essentially absent, but for some dark humour, and there is little in the way of cinematographic flare; a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dolly zoom late in the film is its only notable flourish. The filmmaker’s ability to portray the tribulations of his characters with such a light touch is both a blessing and a curse: emotionally affecting, but hardly groundbreaking. 

Although, Oplev isn’t interested in reinventing the wheel here. His is a deeply personal film, one that prioritises its characters over all else, gripes about plot contrivances and schmaltziness be damned. Carried by a brilliant lead performance from Sofie Gråbøl, it’s a fine depiction of mental health and a heartening espousal of our shared humanity.

The Verdict

In this sensitive film about family and friendship, Niels Arden Oplev shows his knack for character development and getting the most out of his cast. While Rose is restrictively conventional in many ways, there’s enough of a spark here to maintain interest, and its depiction of mental illness is to be applauded.

Words by Louis Roberts

Rose is available in select cinemas and on demand from 28 June.


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