With the huge commercial and critical success of Pixar’s latest film, Toy Story 4, (it recently broke the global box office record for an animated feature) the Toy Story franchise has marked itself as one of the best and most popular animated series of all time. Having spanned almost twenty five years, a great deal of fans (myself included) grew up with the films and their iconic characters. There are moments throughout the series that have not only become widely renowned within pop culture, but have also been cemented as some of the best moments in cinematic history. Let’s begin the countdown of what are —and likely will continue to be — remembered as some of the best and most notable moments across the Toy Story franchise.*
*Spoiler warning for all four Toy Story movies!
10. Woody and Bo Peep Say Goodbye (Toy Story 4)
The Toy Story franchise is known for having moments with a great deal of emotional weight behind them, and the latest film is no exception. Right from the start, we are given a sombre moment with a flashback to nine years prior, when the toys are still residing with Andy. Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, and the other toys embark on a rescue mission to save a remote control car named RC when he is accidentally left outside during a storm. The rescue is a success, but just as the gang gets RC back into the house, Bo Peep is taken away to go to a new home, as her owner — Andy’s sister, Molly — has outgrown her and the lamp that she is attached to.
Woody attempts to rescue Bo, but she resigns herself to her fate once she realises that there is no longer a place for her; she isn’t Andy’s toy, and Molly no longer wants her. Bo then suggests that Woody come with her, which he almost does. However, they hear Andy calling out for Woody, panicked at thinking he has lost him. Woody and Bo both know that Woody cannot abandon Andy or any child who needs him. As the two of them share an emotional moment underneath a parked car, it is clear that they think that this is the last time they will see each other. Although their bond is apparent in the other Toy Story movies, this moment proves just how much the two of them mean to each other, and the heartbreak they both feel knowing that Bo no longer has a place in Andy’s life is evident.
This moment is offset by the breathtaking animation (the rain is particularly impressive) that we see in the background of the scene as the storm rages. As Woody lies in the road getting drenched by the downpour, he watches forlornly as the car drives away with Bo Peep on board. Andy finds him and takes him inside, and the audience realises that Woody has given up a significant amount of happiness for the sake of his child. The raw emotion of the scene combined with a brilliant score from Randy Newman and some of Pixar’s best animation creates an unforgettable moment.
9. The Cleaner Fixes Woody — (Toy Story 2)
One of the quieter yet still memorable moments in the series occurs during the second film. When Woody is kidnapped by an obsessive toy collector, he is restored by a professional toy cleaner to touch him up and fix his ripped arm. This moment stands out in that it shows the great detail that the cleaner goes into to fix Woody. You can tell that he is hugely passionate for his craft, from the tiny barbers style chair that he places Woody in, to his shaky hand as he carefully threads a needle to sew up Woody’s arm, to his work case with all kinds of compartments holding different toy parts.
There is also an emotional touch added to the scene when the cleaner lifts up Woody’s boot and delicately paints over Andy’s name. The audience knows how much Woody and Andy mean to each other, and how meaningful that small token of affection is. You can’t help but feel a pang of sadness as the paint is applied. Though only a small and sweet scene, it is still memorable as a moment which displays how toys are important to children and adults alike, and demonstrates the care and craft of maintaining and restoring classic toys. As well as being highly satisfying to watch, the scene also demonstrates fantastic animation and attention to detail, which is even more impressive when you consider that the film is twenty years old.
8. Buzz and Woody Argue — (Toy Story 2)
Woody’s dedication to Andy has been a major part of the Toy Story movies, and this becomes particularly prominent in Toy Story 2 when Woody is given the opportunity for a different life. When Andy accidentally rips Woody’s arm while playing with him, Andy decides to leave his beloved cowboy doll at home rather than take him to summer camp. This leads Woody to begin questioning his purpose. After his kidnapping by Al, Woody is introduced to Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete, and realises that he is a collectors doll from what was once a hugely popular television show called Woody’s Roundup. Now that Woody is part of their collection, they are due to be sold to a collector in Japan who will put them in a museum where there will stay behind glass for the rest of their lives.
Although this prospect seems unbearable to Woody at first, he starts to come around to the idea when he begins to fear the thought that Andy might discard him if he rips again. When Buzz and the rest of the gang come to rescue Woody, Woody tells them that he has made the decision to go with the roundup gang and become a museum display rather than return and face possible rejection. Buzz’s argument to Woody is incredibly poignant, telling him that Woody was the one who taught him that life was only worth living if a child loves you. He even quotes Woody’s own words back to him (“You are a toy!”), and although Woody is concerned about the roundup gang having to go back to storage should he leave, it is clear that he is frightened of becoming a lost and abandoned toy.
Woody has always been there for Andy, but his fear of being tossed aside makes him question his role in life. This moment is incredibly relatable. As humans, we all fear rejection and losing that which we love the most, but we know that it is a part of life. Woody goes through the same thing here, but he is so afraid that he is willing to give up entirely, shunning that which he cares deeply for due to his fear of being thrown away. Buzz sums up the situation pretty well when Woody attempts to justify his decision by saying that this is his only chance: “To do what Woody? Watch kids from behind glass and never be loved again? Some life.” It is a particularly human moment for the toys, depicting the difficult decision of living a long life with relative ease but no real love or connection, or a shorter and less certain life, but doing so with love and comfort. It also leads in well to our next moment on the list…
7. Woody Leaves — (Toy Story 4)
The core theme of the Toy Story movies has always been the role of a toy and its duty to a child. But what happens when the child no longer cares for a toy? Should they still fulfill the role that they were made for? Toy Story 2 touched on this with Jessie’s backstory, but Andy still very much cared for Woody. Toy Story 4 explores this idea and introduces us to a group of toys who do not have their own children to take care of. They lead a nomadic lifestyle where they live for themselves, and are only played with occasionally. One of these toys happens to be Bo Peep, Woody’s lost love, who has been living freely as a lost toy for many years.
By the end of the film, Woody makes a major decision, as it had become clear that Bonnie no longer favours him,, as she keeps leaving him in the closet while she plays with the other toys. When Forky comes into the picture, Woody does everything in his power to make him see how important he is to Bonnie, and how special it is to be the favourite toy. Woody realises that he is nowhere near as crucial to Bonnie’s development as he was to Andy, and starts to see that there is a whole world out there where toys can be independent. During the film’s conclusion, Woody, Bo and some of the other lost toys formulate a plan to bring together a lost child and a lonely toy. Their plan works, and it allows Woody to see a new purpose in his life: connecting children with toys, but in a different way. Thus, Woody makes the decision to leave Buzz and his friends in order to stay with Bo. He knows that the situation with Bonnie is not the same as it was with Andy, and that she will not miss him when she realises that he is lost.
Whilst this is a pivotal moment in the series, it is also another incredibly human moment that delves into the idea of living for yourself rather than living for someone else’s benefit. The difference between this and the Toy Story 2 moment wherein Woody almost leaves Andy is that Andy needed Woody, and Woody needed Andy. Bonnie is a different story, and by the end of the film, Woody learns that he does not need Bonnie to be happy. His time as a toy whose purpose is to serve a child has come to an end. So what does he do now that the person who is meant to love him has forgotten him? He lives his own life. The issues dealt with in the Toy Story movies have grown with its audience, and the message at the end of Toy Story 4 is particularly important. Times change, people change, and your desires and goals can change. It is important to stay true to yourself, even if that truth is vastly different from the life you have been living. With Woody’s departure and Bo Peep’s independence, we are given a new perspective on the toys and what their lives can be when they aren’t bound to a child. This idea, combined with the life lessons we can take from it, make this moment particular important within the series.
6. Revenge on Sid — (Toy Story)
Throughout the series the toys have had a strict rule around humans: they must never show themselves to be alive, and always have to freeze in their toy poses when someone appears. There is only one moment where this rule is broken, and it proves to be one of the most memorable. Destructive neighbour kid Sid is the primary antagonist of the first Toy Story movie due to his hobby of destroying and mutilating innocent toys. When Buzz and Woody find themselves trapped in sadistic Sid’s house, they formulate a plot with Sid’s tortured toys to not only escape, but to teach Sid a lesson. When Sid attaches a rocket to Buzz, and is about to send him into the stratosphere, Woody breaks the golden toy rule and starts speaking to Sid via his voice box without using his pull string. When Sid decides that Woody must be ‘busted’, Woody retorts with “who you calling busted, buster?”
As Sid becomes more shaken by Woody’s talking, the toys that he has abused over the years start springing to life and creeping towards him. A monster truck emerges from a sandbox, a disfigured soldier doll with a nail through its head limps along menacingly, and the infamous baby head with mechanical spider legs drops down on Sid’s head. You’d be forgiven if you mistook this for a scene from a horror movie. The most satisfying part of this comes when Woody (who has been explaining to a terrified Sid that toys do not enjoy being torn apart) decides to go full Exorcist and rotates his head all the way around before coming to life completely, speaking to Sid in person rather than through his voice box. Woody says that the toys see everything, and tops it off with a mildly threatening, “so play nice.”
Sid screams and runs away, and it is all the more satisfying when his little sister, whose toys he has been stealing, torments and chases him with a small doll. Whilst it is enjoyable to see the villain get his comeuppance, it is the way in which the toys decide to do it that makes this moment so perfect. Not only is one of the best moments in the franchise, it’s one of the best and most fitting villain defeats in cinema.
5. Incinerator — (Toy Story 3)
Toy Story 3 is a film that handles relatable human scenarios in a masterful way, such as dealing with growing up, moving on, and the fear of abandonment, but one of the most iconic scenes from the film comes in an unexpected and highly emotional scene. The toys find themselves in the garbage dump after an encounter with villain Lotso-Huggin Bear; after Lotso betrays the gang, Andy’s toys end up plummeting into an incinerator. They scramble to escape, but it quickly becomes clear that their efforts are futile. As Woody makes another attempt at climbing out, he looks around to see his friends joining hands and accepting their fate. Buzz extends a hand out to Woody, and Woody takes it.
Watching the toys that we have grown to love face their own mortality is depressing enough as it is, but watching them join hands in camaraderie is a painful moment that I didn’t ever expect to see in a Toy Story movie. It is a very adult situation for the toys to find themselves in, and as they confront the possibility of their own deaths, it is difficult not to imagine what you might do in that situation. Obviously, they are rescued at the last moment (I’m sure that Pixar didn’t want to be responsible for traumatising countless children and adults by forcing them to watch all of their favourite characters melt before their eyes), but the scene itself is a powerful and emotional moment that highlights the strong bond that Andy’s toys have forged during their time together, as well as being genuinely heart racing.
4. When She Loved Me — (Toy Story 2)
The theme of abandonment is prevalent throughout the Toy Story series, but it is explored most powerfully during a musical montage in Toy Story 2 as Woody is introduced to the roundup gang, including Jessie the cowgirl doll. Jessie is terrified of going back into storage, as she has spent so long locked away in the dark. She also seems resentful towards Woody for having an owner. When Woody says that Jessie cannot understand his loyalty to Andy, she tells him about the child that she used to be owned by, a girl named Emily. This is done in the form of a beautiful song called “When She Loved Me,” written by Randy Newman and sung by Sarah McLachlan. The song tells Jessie’s story of her time with Emily, who initially dotes on her, takes her everywhere, and plays with her constantly.
But as the song goes on, Emily gets older and begins losing interest in Jessie. Jessie falls under Emily’s bed, and is left there for years to watch Emily outgrow her from afar. She watches as her horse and cowgirl memorabilia switches to more grown up interests, such as make up and dancing. Emily eventually finds Jessie, who is overjoyed when she smiles at her. The most heart-breaking moment of the song comes when we see Jessie happily sitting in Emily’s purse, smiling as Emily holds her and ecstatic that she is being loved again. We then see that Emily is only holding Jessie as she is taking her to be donated. Jessie watches in shock and sadness from the donation box as Emily drives away, leaving her alone.
This song is a fantastic insight into the fear of being abandoned that we all inherently have within us, but told through the perspective of a toy. It also explains Jessie’s fears, and gives her a well-developed and believable backstory all within the frame of a three minutes. It’s a strong character moment, and one of the saddest scenes in the whole franchise. If you can make an entire generation of children think twice before abandoning their toys, you know you’ve created something meaningful.
3. You Are A Toy! — (Toy Story)
The original Toy Story is full of great moments that have been remembered by cinema fans, and this particular scene is one of the best. When Woody and Buzz find themselves stranded at a gas station, the two begin to argue as to whose fault it is that they’re in this situation. Buzz lets loose a tirade as to how his rendezvous with star command has been delayed, and that Woody is stopping him on his important mission to save the galaxy. Woody merely stares at him for a moment before uttering one of the best lines of the whole series: “You…Are…A…Toy!”
Most of the humour in the first film comes from Buzz’s obliviousness to the fact that he is indeed a toy and not a real space ranger, so this outburst from Woody is a hilarious culmination of his building frustration. Again, it is a great interpretation of human behaviour through the guise of a toy. Tom Hank’s delivery is so perfect that it is impossible not to feel anything when he delivers it. Buzz’s retort to Woody makes the scene all the more iconic: “You are a sad, strange little man. And you have my pity.” In what has become one of the most quotable lines from all the Toy Story movies, this scene firmly places itself as one of the funniest and most memorable of the series.
2. So Long — (Toy Story 3)
Andy has finally grown up in Toy Story 3, and is leaving for college. After a long journey which involves his toys being given to a day-care, escaping, and facing death, they finally end up back with Andy, who donates them to a little girl named Bonnie. When he gives them to her, he gives each toy a moment to shine, and recounts the various personalities and back stories that he has given to them over the years. When he gets to Woody, he is surprised to see him, as he was planning to take him to college with him. Bonnie reaches for Woody, but Andy instinctively pulls him back. This is a nice touch, as it shows Andy clinging to the last lingering thread of his childhood, something that we have all been guilty of.
Andy then realises that Woody will be adored and played with by Bonnie, so he opts to hand him over, but not before he gives Bonnie a tear-jerking description, saying that Woody will always be there for you, no matter what. This is made all the more emotional by the fact that Andy does not know just how true this is. All Woody has ever done has been for Andy; he has loved him and cared for him from afar, and has acted as his protector his whole life. Andy has one last playtime with his toys and Bonnie, and as he goes to leave, he says goodbye for a final time to the toys, thanking them. In doing so, he is bidding farewell to his childhood, and moving on to a new chapter in his life.
The Toy Story films have a brilliant way of creating relatable moments through the toys’ relationship to Andy, and this one is particularly hard-hitting in that it is something that happens to everyone, no matter who you are or where you are from. There will always be a point where you have to leave your childhood memories in the past and move on. This moment is the most relatable that I personally have experienced in the franchise, and one that has gone down as one of the most fitting conclusions to a story arc in film. It is a moment that made grown men cry, and if you didn’t feel even the slightest tinge of emotion when Woody said, “so long, partner,” then you are an emotionless robot incapable of human feeling. That’s in my humble opinion, of course.
1. Falling With Style — Toy Story
It was difficult to choose which moment would be at the top of this list, so I decided to think on what moment could be considered a cinema classic that most people would know. What scene provides us with an image that could be considered a good representation of the series? Even though the other moments in this list have their own strengths, the climax of the first film has to be number one, as it brings together various elements to create a scene that is a cinematic triumph.
At the end of the film, Buzz and Woody chase Andy as he and his family are in the process of moving house. As they chase the van, the toys within soon realise that Buzz and Woody are attempting to reach them. When they are unable to catch up with the truck, they light the rocket that is still attached to Buzz’s back after their encounter with Sid. Buzz flies up into the sky as he holds onto Woody and just before the rocket explodes, Buzz extends his wings. The rocket detaches, and the two appear to fly through the air. Woody exclaims that Buzz is flying, but Buzz returns a statement that Woody said to him earlier in the film during Buzz’s attempt at taking to the air: “This isn’t flying. This is falling, with style.” As the two glide towards Andy’s car, Woody provides another of the most well-known lines from the series: “ To Infinity and Beyond.” They land in Andy’s car, and as Andy hugs them, excited that he has found them after assuming them lost, Buzz and Woody give each other a knowing wink before returning to toy mode.
Though this moment is simpler than some, it is a perfect representation of the series, as well as a great way to show the development of the characters. The visual of Buzz holding Woody as they fly through the air shows their new-found friendship. From bitter rivals at the start to best friends who have saved one another at the finish, the relationship is validated by this image. Their friendship becomes an essential part of the franchise, and it is highlighted most in this scene. The phrase “To Infinity and Beyond” is also hugely well-known across pop culture, and whilst it annoyed Woody to begin with, he now says it with sincerity, which also shows the extent of the character development. The ‘falling with style’ scene is a fantastic moment that emphasizes several important elements that run throughout the Toy Story series, such as friendship, loyalty, and going above and beyond to make a child happy. The first film was a technological marvel, being the very first computer-animated feature-length movie, but it was also a marvel of storytelling. This moment is one that is highly recognizable, and will be remembered by cinema fans for many years to come.
‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot
The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.
The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.
Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016.
For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.
We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them.
But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein.
The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day.
And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.
The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory.
Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject.
‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past
Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.
After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.
The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.
The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.
However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.
A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.
Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?
The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.
‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.
‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire
Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.
Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous.
This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection.
Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom.
When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness).
These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us.
Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results.
Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.
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