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DVD Review: ‘Above the Street, Below the Water’

★★★☆☆

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years (or don’t own a television), you’ll more than likely be aware of the explosion of Scandinavian drama on British screens in recent times. The enormous success of crime serials such as The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen has led to higher demand for Nordic imports. Arrow Films have once again duly obliged with Charlotte Sieling’s debut feature, Above the Street, Below the Water (Over gaden under vandet, 2009). A tale of desire and the complexities of modern relationships, the film brings together a host of recognisable faces from the aforementioned television series.

The scene is set amongst the increasingly familiar locale of the arguments, affairs, and implausibly intertwining lives of several affluent couples; on this occasion living and loving in Copenhagen. Bente (Ellen Hillingsø) is separated from her husband and sleeping with Ask (Nicolas Bro). Ask is married to Anne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a famous actress, but has been unhappy for some time. Still, they are attending marriage counselling with Charlotte (Ellen Nyman) the wife of Anne’s director, Carl (Niels Ole Oftebro). Are we keeping up?

Carl is, unfortunately given his marital bonds, a serial adulterer, whilst the consequently unhappy Charlotte meets a man living in a boat in the harbour outside their apartment. This love interest goes by the name of Bjørn (Anders W. Berthelsen), and also transpires to be Bente’s husband. When Ask tells his wife that he’d like to take a break, all hell predictably breaks loose. The opening night of Anne and Carl’s play is just hours away and various lives are turned upside-down, inside-out and, if anyone can manage it, sex is had with someone that is not their spouse. If Above the Street, Below the Water is starting to sound awfully like the Danish equivalent of a British soap opera, you’re probably not far off.

It’s all terribly convoluted but just about manages to keep it’s head above the water by being consciously aware of it. Luckily, the ridiculousness of the situations are often played for comic effect.The acting is excellent from all involved and although some characters are allowed more of a chance to grow on the audience than others, each of them show enough flaws to even them all out in the end.

If anything, the most likeable characters come in the form of their various children who appear to be monogamous and determined not to let bad parenting get them down too much. At times it may feel like an exercise in futility, but in the end Above the Street, Below the Water is a genuine attempt to show some of the perils and pitfalls of marriage and families in the modern world. That it comes with an all-star Nordic cast is something of a bonus.

Ben Nicholson