Philip Gröning “has been working for twenty years or so,” notes Oliver Lyttelton, “but his last film, 2005’s Into Great Silence, a documentary about the Carthesian monks of the French Alps, really saw him win recognition, becoming a favorite on the festival circuit and winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance. It’s taken eight years, but Gröning has returned, and not just with a new film, but with his first fiction feature in thirteen years in the shape of The Police Officer’s Wife.” And he gives it a Playlist grade: C+.
Dan Fainaru for Screen Daily: “Extremely pretentious in its formal demeanor and indulging in excessive lengths, this is a 59-chapter (some of them barely one minute long) scientifically precise analysis of a quiet, typically respectable family life, tainted by brutal violence… most, but not all, of it taking place off-screen. And there is plenty of it, judging by the bruises that gradually cover the wife’s body, all of them observed at close range and considerable length by Gröning’s scrupulous camera.”
“Is it a White Ribbon-style metaphor for the quasi-fascistic power trips that come from working in the police?” asks David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “Or is it a Tree of Life-style visual scrapbook of snatched moments in the lives of a young family? Or a Jeanne Dielman-like, closed-circuit chronicle of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Or is it something else entirely? Something more surreal, dealing in playful obfuscation and thematic sleight of hand to suggest these people are symbols standing in for other ideas?”
Interviewing the director for Cineuropa, Domenico La Porta cuts to the chase: “What are the themes that you wanted to exploit in the film?” Gröning: “The film is about universality both in terms of the obscure side represented by domestic violence and the love that brings a family together. It is a film about violence in the home, but also about the love between a mother and daughter. These aspects are of equal importance in the film. Then, it is also about imbalance. It is a story that could take place anywhere.”
“But there’s next to no insight into [the] character[s] as the film remains strictly in observational mode throughout,” argues Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter, “while the distancing effect of the recurring chapter headings every couple of minutes makes it impossible for the film to obtain any kind of dramatic flow.” And Variety‘s Jay Weissberg argues that Gröning “forfeits genuine emotional perspective for mere technical ones.”
Updates, 9/1: Gröning “refuses to pinpoint evil or assimilate it to any kind of visciousness,” writes Domenico La Porta at Cineuropa. “While it seems that the man is also a victim suffering from some sort of bipolar pathology, he nevertheless remains a poison who festers in this couple and destroys everything: relationships, personalities, identities… Only the little girl is protected thanks to the efforts of her mother, but the gangrene progresses and the spectator ends up understanding that she will not be kept safe forever. This worry is the main tension in the film, especially since the character of the child—played in turns by two twins—is particularly moving in its simplicity and the purity of [her] reactions.”
More from Frédéric Jaeger (in German).
Update, 9/8: Ashley Clark at the House Next Door: “When Carlos Reygadas gave us befuddling family trauma in Post Tenebras Lux, he infused the grim material with a sense of oneiric, unpredictable narrative and tonal elasticity; conversely, in the glum The Police Officer’s Wife, we’re at the mercy of a director set on telling us precisely nothing new in the most laborious and distancing manner possible.”
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