Saturday June 15th, 2024
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Cannes 2024: ‘The Girl with the Needle’ Pierces the Depths of Darkness

Directed by Magnus van Horn and based on a notorious 1921 baby-killing case in Denmark, ‘The Girl with the Needle’ is a macabre and nightmarish work of art.

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Cannes 2024: ‘The Girl with the Needle’ Pierces the Depths of Darkness

In a dimly lit bathhouse in Copenhagen, 1919, a pregnant woman sinks into the murky water of a filthy bathtub. As she submerges herself, her malevolent intent becomes apparent. With trembling hands, she clutches a large pointy needle. Her aim is to rid herself of the burden within. Directed by Magnus van Horn, ‘The Girl with the Needle’ is a macabre and nightmarish work of art. This fictionalized account of true crime based on a notorious baby-killing murder case of 1921 in Denmark is unquestionably the bleakest film to debut in competition at Cannes this year.

Karoline (Vic Carmen Sonne), a young factory worker, is struggling to survive in post WW1 Copenhagen. After her husband gets wounded in battle, she endures a humiliating affair that results in an unplanned pregnancy. When she finds herself unemployed, pregnant and abandoned, she meets Dagmar (Trine Dyrholm), a charismatic woman running an underground adoption agency. Dagmar helps mothers find foster homes for their unwanted children. With nowhere else to turn, Karoline takes on the role of a wet-nurse. A strong connection is formed between the two women, but Karoline’s world shatters when she stumbles upon the shocking truth behind her work.

Magnus van Horn explained that he wanted to explore if it is possible to be good when you are surrounded by evil. He further elaborated that the real-life case that inspired the film reflects “a national trauma that echoes through time and can still today remind us of what it means to turn a blind eye to the horrors in society.” Indeed, the film tackles complex themes surrounding abortion, ethical dilemmas and the consequences of others' actions. While it may not be an easy watch by any means, those brave enough to sit through its gut-wrenching scenes will find it to be extremely rewarding.

Shot in high-contrast expressionist monochrome, Horn immerses viewers in a haunting realm of darkness and despair. The remarkable cinematography is coupled with an eerie musical score by Frederikke Hoffmeier. Hoffmeier uses immersive sound design to envelope viewers with a sense of dread. What we end up with is an atmosphere thick with suspense. In fact, at various points, I was left to grapple with an almost unbearable tension. Visceral, gothic and unapologetic, ‘The Girl with the Needle’ is a visual symphony of true terror. Even the most ordinary shots become mesmerizing through careful framing and stylized lighting. This incredible attention to detail lends the film a picturesque gloss that transported me back in time. I found myself irresistibly drawn towards what is concealed within the dark depth of every frame, as if every shadow held secrets too terrifying to behold.

Central to the narrative are the damaged beings who inhabit this bleak landscape, their lives intertwined in a web of tragedy and desperation. Carmen Sonne, Besir Zeciri and Trine Dyrholm deliver impeccable performances. Rather than being handed to the audience on a silver platter, the inner truths of each character are subtly unveiled through their actions and interactions. I walked out of the film finding myself immersed in profound introspection - each contemplative thought unveiled a new discovery.

The film reminded me a lot of Patty Jenkins’ ‘Monster’ and David Lynch’s ‘The Elephant Man’ in its painful portrait of damaged souls living in a cruel world. Picture witnessing the most ruthless crimes unfold against the backdrop of Copenhagen; the city is portrayed as a grim pitstop to the underworld. Here, the damned wander through muddy alleyways which lead to the bleakest corners of human existence. Horn paints a vivid picture of societal decay and human suffering. His vision will etch itself into the very fabric of your memory. If the accolades start pouring in, it won't be a surprise; it'll be the inevitable crowning of a genuine modern masterpiece of Danish cinema.


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