Based on a 1912 book by acclaimed author of Nordic women’s literature, Marie Bregendahl, “As in Heaven” is one of those works that comes together to celebrate timeless feminist ideals. Set on a rural farm in the 1880s, the film features a female-driven story that’s haunting because it feels so contemporary. This period piece tackles strong themes of life, death, religion, and superstition (and their very real threats to women) to make a powerful statement.
Teenager Lise (Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl) is preparing to leave for school, a decision which makes her traditional-minded father extremely unhappy. Her mother Anna (Ida Cæcilie Rasmussen) is pregnant with yet another child to add to their already crowded household, and soon the expectant mother is suffering through a difficult labor that is threatening her life. The family housekeeper has had a vision that predicts a horrible tragedy if medicine is relied upon, so she lets the woman bleed out until she is near death. Superstitious and clinging to religious dogma herself, Anna refuses to call for the doctor and opts to leave her fate in God’s hands. As misfortune looms on the horizon, Lise begins to see her dreams of an education and new life slowly being shattered.
The film (a feature debut for director Tea Lindeburg) has a predominantly female cast that’s driven by a determined lead character. Lise is a young woman who has confidence and fortitude in what becomes a sad coming-of-age story. When she begins to realize that people close to her are willing to let someone die in the name of religion, Lise starts doubting everything she’s been taught. She begins openly questioning the role of faith in her life and the contradictions of belief that most followers choose to ignore. The film offers a bold commentary about how religion often makes believers feel like they’re bad people for even the slightest transgression, and how it has been used as a method to control and harm so many throughout history, especially women. What’s chilling is that it’s still being used in this way.
The themes are what make the “As in Heaven” such a thought-provoking work, especially when you consider the harm religion can do and how blind faith and tradition can grab hold of a young girl and keep her stuck in a conventional societal (and familial) role that she can never escape. The end scene is heartbreaking for so many reasons, and it will likely resonate on a primal level with many women. It’s easy to see why the subject matter appealed to a female filmmaker, if only for the shocking relevance that a century-old piece of literature still has in present day.
This film was screened for review at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.