Parents ~ Film Non-Spoiler Review

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Photo montage of scenes from Parents. Central image is the theatrical poster for the film.


PARENTS (2016) aka Forældre is a Danish drama/mystery film. 1 hr 26 min. Free on Amazon Prime U.K.; Rent/Buy AppleTV & Amazon US; AppleTV Canada. Danish with English subtitles. 


“When their son, Esben, moves out, Kjeld and Vibeke decide to relocate to a smaller home. They discover that the apartment they lived in back when they were students is up for sale and agree to buy it and make a new start. Kjeld furnishes the apartment the way it was furnished back then, and for a while the two relive their sweet days of youth. But events take a turn neither of them had expected when they wake up one morning and find that they are actually thirty years younger.” Christian Tafdrup 


Søren Malling as Kjeld

Bodil Jørgensen as Vibeke 

Elliott Crosset Hove as Kjeld (younger) 

Miri Ann Beuschel as Vibeke (younger) 

Anton Honik as Esben 

Emilia Imperatore Bjørnvad as Sandra 

Christian Tafdrup as Estate Agent/Realtor 

Theatrical poster for the film Parents


Director: Christian Tafdrup

Cinematographer: Maria von Hausswolff

Writer: Christian Tafdrup 

Editor: Anne Østerud & Tanya Fallenius 


Christian Tafdrup, the writer/director of Parents (he also plays an estate agent in the film) will be known to many of you for the role he played in Borgen season 3 as Alexander Hjort, the new head of programmes at TV1. He has been in a large number of other films and TV shows including season 2 of Ride Upon the Storm (Herrens veje) as Mikkel. 

Christian has said that this film was a result of a dream that he had. 

“This story is about two parents who attempt to fill the void left in their lives after their child moves out. Where do they go from here? Individually and as a couple? This film is a love story. It is also an existential story about letting go. It’s an aesthetically taught [sic?] film that takes place in a world somewhere between dream and reality, one that challenges the traditions of naturalism in films by incorporating surreal and theatrical elements. An art film of sorts, though it also intends to have the power to move us.” Christian Tafdrup 

Christian Tafdrup in Borgen
Christian Tafdrup in Borgen


You may be familiar with movies such as Big with Tom Hanks where a youngster suddenly becomes an adult, well Parents is the reverse of that, at least in part. Parents is a strange film, and I don’t say that negatively, but I can imagine how it might confuse those who watch without realising what will happen partway through. Unlike Big, this film treats the viewer as an intelligent adult and does not spoon-feed the story or events. Parents is far more thought-provoking and obscure and has elements of an arthouse movie. 

At the very start, we meet husband and wife Kjeld and Vibeke saying goodbye to their son Esben as he sets off to his new apartment in Copenhagen. He is their only child, the house is now empty except for the two of them and they face the prospect of “now what?”.

Søren Malling (left) as Kjeld and Bodil Jorgense (right) as Vibeke in a scene from Parents

Initially, this means dropping by with “things” and offering to do odd jobs, all of which are refused by the dull and indifferent Esben (notably though this doesn’t stop him wanting them to do his washing… Does this ring any bells with parents out there?) You can feel their hurt whenever he rejects them but by the same token, this is a young man who needs a chance to stretch his wings.

This is a gaping hole in their lives. They fill it initially by doing things they enjoy, such as Vibeke working in the garden. Vibeke herself displays heart-rending grief whilst Kjeld tries to get a grip on what is next for them as a couple and as individuals. For Kjeld this means a more literal attempt to recapture their youth as the flat in Copenhagen that they had once lived in before baby Esben came along is newly renovated and up for sale (and only a 9-minute walk from Esben!) Taken around the flat is an important experience for Kjeld as there, on the side of a wall he sees, all newly painted over, the heart with their initials that they had carved all those years before. 

Søren Malling and Bodil Jørgensen in a scene from Parents

Filled with enthusiasm at the chance to relive their youth Kjeld “sells” the idea of moving into the old apartment (after all they do not need the space anymore) and selling their house. They move and Kjeld starts making the apartment look as it did when they were first there with some changes such as a large wall hanging where the record stack used to be. They look at old photographs, he buys Vibeke a white rabbit (Alice in Wonderland anyone?) just like the one she had all those years ago. 

Søren Malling and Bodil Jørgensen with a white rabbit in a scene from Parents

One of the things that struck me is that as soon as they get to the apartment is how everything is a little “off”. There are some great moments such as the water fight by the sink and the music is just perfect! Things start getting overly obsessive with having to be just like they were, the same rug in the same place etc. It is clear however that despite all the excitement of moving back (in more ways than one) things are still not “right”. Their relationship is still floundering… 

Kjeld steadily “deconstructs” the modernised flat to appear more and more like the old one (which was dilapidated). The apartment becomes increasingly corrupted and decayed (seeing the mouldering oranges as an example). It is at this point that there is a radical switch in the storyline when Kjeld awakens after standing in the pouring rain (this pouring, gushing, dripping water is used a lot thereafter) and finds himself and Vibeke young once more and near the start of their relationship. The way that Elliott Crosset Hove plays the young Kjeld looking in the mirror for the first time is beautifully done touching his face as if it is not his… 

The story then takes us into a strange and disturbing journey of the relationship between these two but also their son. Eventually, we see that given the chance to relive one’s youth not only are new opportunities presented but that the outcome can be very different, very disturbing and deeply upsetting. 

I feel that I am scooting over the central portion of the movie where they are young again but I think this is a section to be watched and experienced without spoilers as such. There are many stand out scenes in this section but for me is the party where the son disowns his “parents” and a young Vibeke stands in the kitchen clearing up the debris (yes, I have been there!) until stopped by Kjeld telling her they should go an enjoy the party. Which they do! 

Finally, Kjeld awakens and realises that any attempt to run away from the future by retreating into the past is both futile and destructive. Vibeke too realises that staying frozen in a state of mildly hysterical bereaved limbo or retreating is equally hopeless. Only once the couple as individuals grasp what it is they actually want for themselves and as a couple can they move forward into their new future. This is a future that does not revolve around their somewhat self-absorbed son (who suddenly finds them of use when he splits up from his girlfriend… oh… and that washing of course). What they actually all reach is a new normality, where their son is not the centre of their lives but is not totally rejected either (yes Kjeld, looking at you here). I loved the final scene of their sweeping of the leaves in the garden… New beginnings. 

Scene from Paretns showing the interior of the apartment once deconstructed.

The direction and cinematography in Parents are truly outstanding. There are so many beautiful frames to look at, aerials with water/rain, the still camera focused on a wall with voices off and then Kjeld walking back into the frame. The changing colour palette between “settings” works really well. The intimate scenes where everything is close to individuals. And then the deliberate distancing. A cool wandering around the empty, white interior of their house before they move back in… Amazing! I adored the decaying set of the apartment, how it became gradually so decrepit, dank and grim. The music too works so well both the original score and the soundtrack choices. 

Elliott Crosset Hove as a younger Kjeld (right) and Miri Ann Beuschel as a younger Vibeke (left) in a scene from Parents

The performances from the tiny cast are all excellent. There is a deliberate oddness about the way that the young Kjeld and Vibeke are portrayed, and Esben is a bit of a cypher, but please don’t mistake this for bad acting, it isn’t. Søren Malling and Bodil Jørgensen are outstanding. 

Parents is an “empty nest syndrome” movie on mind-altering substances! With the strong dream-like, fantasy elements it may be one that not all will “get” or enjoy (indeed some may hate) but I loved it. It is also a film that I will definitely watch again as I know that I will get even more the second time around. You can see why Parents won prizes. 


8 wins and 17 nominations ~ 

Bodil Awards (2017) Best Actor ~ Søren Malling; Best Cinematography ~ Maria von Hausswolff; Best Screenplay ~ Christian Tafdrup; Henning Bahs Award ~ Jette Lehmann

Robert Awards (2017) Best Director ~ Christian Tafdrup; Best Actor ~ Søren Malling; Best Editing ~ Anne Østerud, Tanya Fallenius;

Neufchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (2016) Best European Fantastic Feature Film ~ Christian Tafdrup & Nordisk Film 


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