Once upon a time in a small Nordic country of terrible beauty there lived a prince named Christian (Ulrich Thomsen). He was young, handsome, and intelligent and the future for him and his twin sister Linda seemed as bright as the Danish summer sky. He had two other siblings, Helen (Paprika Steen), who was a bit younger, and Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), the baby. But as much as their parents loved all four children, nothing could compare to the affection that their father, the beloved patriarch Helge (Henning Moritzen), showed the twins. He personally would take them into his study or into the largest bathroom of their country mansion and bathe them one by one. Since their father was equally affectionate to both twins, he couldn't bear the thought of favoritism, and would actually draw lots to see which one would be bathed first. Sometimes their mother Elsa (Birthe Neumann), who was infinitely deferential to the wishes of their father, would walk by the bathroom or the study and find her family members together and leave the room with nary a word. Linda so resembled her mother! The same long hair that in Spanish has a girl’s name, melena, the same piercing blue eyes! You could have practically mistaken one for the other! And when father and mother, who were among Denmark’s very social and financial elite, decided to add to their family, it happened that there was less time for the twins, now at school and less in touch with their ever-busy parents.
One of the world’s most beautiful countries, Denmark is also one of its most civilized. Its retirement age is lower than in other highly industrialized nations, and basic health care and schooling are practically free throughout a lifetime. Taxes are rather excessive, true enough, but how else can Denmark live up to its famous adage as “the country where few are rich and even fewer are poor”? So as Helge prepares to step down from his lifelong commitment to wealth, achievement, and prestige, it is only fitting that his family hold a party to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of this great man’s birth. Only the most important family members and friends are invited, although with such success, there are often a large number of candidates from which to choose. The whole endeavor is to take place on an early summer's day at the aforementioned mansion, which has a hotel-like feel to it. Perhaps this is a more recent acquisition? After all, Helge is an elder at one of the Masonic lodges that wield so much influence in Scandinavia, who knows what deceased count or baron's barks once echoed in these halls? “I might even get the lodge to consider you for membership,” whispers Helge in an aside to Michael, a budding chef who studied in Switzerland but who wasn’t actually invited to this year’s event because of extramarital behavior at last year’s event. There was such an event last year as well? For Helge’s fifty-ninth birthday? But what’s so special about that? This year must be more important. Christian has made the trek all the way from Paris for this so it cannot be just another birthday party. What happened between these two events? Ah yes, Linda, dearest Linda, decided that her privileged life could not go on.
How strange, then, to witness the merriment on the faces of the guests and hosts as they all pour into the foyer of this grand house, which with every passing second seems less real and more like a sham. It’s as if Linda never existed! As one would expect, it is Christian who feels the loss more than anyone else. Christian, who has been alive exactly as long as she has, conceived by their father in their mother’s womb, then cared for so tenderly by their parents despite the demands of success and society. So parallel have their lives been. And yet Christian cannot be bothered to take a flight in from the City of Lights to Copenhagen, arguably the most sumptuous and breathtaking city on earth, for Linda’s funeral a few weeks before the big birthday bash! How then is one to react to Christian when he appears, sullen and devoid of energy, and cannot bring his inverted self to get frisky with one of the many servers, a lovely girl named Pia (Trine Dyrholm) who has always had a thing for (and once briefly with) him, much less hobnob with the big shots? How then is one to react when Christian downs a few cocktails and then announces a toast in honor of his deceased sibling? Everyone seems quite relieved at this development, and impressed that Christian would have the foresight to have written two speeches and allow his beloved father, the patriarch, to choose which envelope to open. Just like, it is mentioned, his father once drew lots.
Christian does in fact address the matter of his late sister, but his focus quickly drifts to the patriarch. After all, who is paying for this shindig? To whom does Christian owe his career as a successful restaurateur? His father, of course! He should be eternally grateful for all the privileges that his father’s name and wealth have showered upon him and consider how many people, even in a civilized place like Northern Europe, never gain access to such opportunities. And what better way to talk about his father than to mention the affection of which Christian and his late sister were the exclusive beneficiaries as children! Once Helen and Michael came along, there were no more baths and frolicking, and you can see how this lack of parental tenderness has affected them. Michael is now a surly and underachieving adulterer who bellows at his unloved wife and children. Helen smokes continuously, leaps from the arms of one foreigner into the arms of another (she even has the audacity to bring her latest exotic conquest, a handsome African-American, to the party), and avoids conflict instead of trying to resolve it. No, Linda and Christian were the lucky ones, and now Linda is gone forever. But Christian will try as hard as he can to make sure people understand why she left. The result is one of the finest films ever made, in any language and at any time, and worth every second of its slow but believable derailment.