Thursday, November 22, 2018

BECOMING ASTRID: Pernille Fischer Christensen's smart, lively, moving bio-pic of the early years of a famous Swedish writer

The name Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) will probably be less recognizable to many literate Americans than is that of one of her heroines, Pippi Longstocking. Pippi, together with other of Lindgren's protagonists, fueled some of the most popular children's books in the history of print. (The author, whose combined works have now sold more than 165,000,000 copies, is also said to be the fourth most translated writer of children's books in the world.)

Interestingly enough, BECOMING ASTRID, the new film about the late-teenage/early-adult years of Ms Lindgren directed and co-written by Pernille Fischer Christensen, is anything but a "children's story" -- even though a child figures very heavily into things.

Ms Christensen (pictured at right) tells a tale, which sticks somewhat closely to factual accounts, of the young girl from a highly religious family/community who clearly has a talent for writing, as well as a need to be independent, even though the means to that state is anything but easy.

The movie is a quite fascinating blend of the dark and sad, and yet it is at the same time relatively easy to enjoy, thanks to the well-rounded characters on view -- no real villains (unless you count organized religion itself), nor even a pristine heroine to be found here -- and to the excellent performance of literally every actor on view.

Front and center is the exceptional young actress Alba August, above (the daughter of director Bille August and actress Pernilla August), who plays Astrid and who easily moves from naive teen to fledgling reporter to worldy-wise mother in the course of this two-hour film.

How and why she chooses this difficult road is told with urgency and understanding by Ms Christensen and her co-writer Kim Fupz Aakeson, as the story moves from Sweden to Denmark and back again, involving the editor of the local newspaper (a fine job from Henrik Rafaelsen, above, left) and his family, Astrid's life in the big-city workplace (that's her boss, played with sly intelligence and humor by Björn Gustafsson, below), and finally a surrogate mom (the wonderful Trine Dyrholm, seen only recently as Nico).

The choice to concentrate on these early years, rather than on how Lindgren achieved her initial success, was a smart one, and the movie also chooses a pleasing but subtle introduction and finale (below), during which the now famous and aging author, on her birthday, listens to tapes and reads letters from her young fans.

This quickly and firmly establishes who she is and why she's important. When one of the youngsters asks how she is able to so completely understand the sometimes fraught and frightening world of childhood, the movie moves immediately to enmesh us in her own earlier years.

Young Ms August brings to the role enormous vitality, as well as an understanding of the pitfalls that go hand in hand with brash youth and teenage rebellion. Consequently, though we always wish her well, we do cringe and wonder at a few of her choices. This gives the movie more reality, together with a certain surprising frisson -- both of which many other conventional bio-pics lack.

When at last we meet the little boy who will prove so pivotal to Astrid's life and who takes his place as increasingly all-important, the movie reaches its emotional height -- and stays there through the conclusion. Fans of this super-popular author will certainly be hooked. But so, too, TrustMovies suspects, will be even those who know little about Ms Lindgren. The film is that compelling and well-executed.

From Music Box Films and running 123 minutes, Becoming Astrid opens in New York City (at Film Forum), Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal) and Minneapolis (at Landmark's Lagoon Cinema) tomorrow, Friday, November 22, and will then spread across the country in the weeks to come. Here in South Florida, look for it on Friday, November 30, at the MDC Tower Theater in Miami. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here then scroll down and click on Theatrical Engagements.

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