When his father, a Danish industrialist, dies unexpectedly, Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen) returns to Copenhagen. Christoffer long ago abandoned the family business -- steel-making -- and has been running a trendy restaurant in Stockholm, abetted by his actress wife, Maria (Lisa Werlinder). At the funeral his domineering mother (Ghita Ní¸rby) insists he stay and revive the ailing company.
The Inheritance is the sophomore film from Danish director Per Fly, and the second in his planned trilogy about class in contemporary Denmark (2000's The Bench tackled the working class). Here, Fly's goal is to present an episode in the lives of the well-to-do that functions less as a critique of that class than a character study of one of its members.
Christoffer is meant to be sympathetic -- we admire his prodigal Yuppie/Bohemian life in Stockholm, note his reluctance to become an executive (and by extension, a version of his distant father), and generally feel the weight of his crown. Yet Fly -- whether through intentional restraint or dramatic inexperience -- reveals so little of his characters' motivations that by the film's end, it's difficult to accept its dictums about sacrifice, business over pleasure and the burden of familial obligation.
For instance, Christoffer's mother makes many key decisions -- which the son is then doomed to act out -- but her motives remain unclear: power, money, pique, family head games? In a clumsy allusion to their love's inability to survive, Christoffer helps Maria rehearse Romeo and Juliet; it's too bad they aren't reading Macbeth or Hamlet, plays that might have better illustrated the family-based power plays he's forced to confront.
Fly directs simply, with long shots and still camera set-ups; you won't get any
of that jumpy Dogma stuff here, but the film ultimately might feel as bleak. Fly's purpose in parsing out business from the personal is noble, and even old-fashioned (I was reminded of the great business-themed novels written at the turn of the last century), but as a melodrama driven by the conflict of desire and duty, The Inheritance seems too simplistic, its character development and conclusions as austere as the sets' elegant interiors. In Danish, Swedish and French, with subtitles.