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A Fortunate Man

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
A Fortunate Man Movie Poster Image
Masterful Danish period drama/love story; some nudity.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 162 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Acknowledges that weaknesses of character can undermine great genius. A painful past may alter the course of one's life. Promotes compassion, charity, gratitude, forgiveness, integrity. Anti-Semitism is rejected.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While protagonist ultimately sabotages his intellectual gifts because of his ambition, arrogance, and lack of empathy, other characters demonstrate honesty, teamwork, communication, forgiveness, perseverance. A woman at turn of 20th century is portrayed as independent, smart, accomplished.

Violence

A father slaps his adult son. 

Sex

Some sexuality -- foreplay, passionate kissing -- and partial nudity (bare breasts).

Language

Anti-Semitic slurs.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol is consumed in social situations -- some drunkenness. Characters smoke cigarettes, cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Fortunate Man is an epic drama from Denmark with mature themes. Available with either English subtitles or dubbed (replacing the Danish actors' voices with English voices), the movie is based on Lykke-Per (a novel in three volumes, published between 1898 and 1904), by Nobel Prize winner Henrik Pontoppidan. At its heart, the film is both a vibrant love story and the piercing portrait of a complex hero as he negotiates the worlds of academia, high finance, and government bureaucracy. The movie includes several passionate love scenes with kissing, sexual foreplay, and partial nudity (bare female breasts). Characters drink alcoholic beverages, in some instances becoming drunk, and smoke both cigarettes and cigars. A father slaps his grown son. Set at the turn of the 20th century, the story involves Christian fundamentalism and features a wealthy Jewish family that experiences some anti-Semitism. Recommended for mature teens, the movie should inspire thoughtful discussion. 

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What's the story?

A FORTUNATE MAN opens in Denmark at the turn of the 20th century. Young Per Sidenius (Esben Smed) leaves his rural, Christian-fundamentalist home filled with both anger and ambition. Struggling to survive as a student in Copenhagen, Per's genius is apparent. His engineering concepts and designs that involve harnessing energy from nature (wind, water) and a country-wide canal system are dynamic and forward-thinking. Per could very well change the fortunes of Denmark. Hard work and a degree of cunning pay off when he meets the Salomons, a wealthy, influential Jewish family. As Per attempts to enlist the family's financial support, he falls in love with Jakobe (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal), their brilliant and beautiful eldest daughter. The family patriarch (Tommy Kenter), prodded by Jakobe and her brother Ivan (Benjamin Kitter), agrees to help the young engineer. Just as Per's future appears to be on solid ground, his romance flourishing, the young man's inner demons  -- for the most part held in check until this moment -- emerge to threaten the life he has so carefully created.

Is it any good?

This remarkably well-crafted movie is notable for its compelling characters, visionary take on technology's future, and most poignantly, its depiction of the enduring consequences of a troubled past. In A Fortunate Man, celebrated director Bille August takes almost three hours to weave the tale of Per Sidenius, the young engineering genius who self-destructs. It's time well spent. Esben Smed's portrayal of Per is beautifully nuanced, and though it appears that aging the youthful actor was a challenge, it's only minimally distracting. Performances, directing, and writing are exceptional. Copenhagen, as it was more than a century ago, looks vibrant. The costumes and sets that reflect the city at its dreariest and at its most grand are wonderful. A must-see for lovers of complex characters in a period setting that feels contemporary and insightful.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the storyteller's farsightedness in A Fortunate Man. In what ways did Per's ideas and proposed innovations predict the future? How did the film's concept of "who controls the energy holds the power and the money," as well as Per's insights about "harnessing the power of nature," prove true? 

  • In literature (or film), a "tragic flaw" is a character trait that leads to the downfall of an otherwise heroic person. How does Per's story illustrate this concept? What were his tragic flaws? How was he "his own worst enemy"?

  • How did the film's depiction of Per's relationships with Lisbeth, Jakobe, and Inger help clarify his character's self-destructiveness? Was sex a positive or negative force in Per's life? 

  • Think about the character of Jakobe Salomon. How did she reflect the evolution of women over the last century? 

Movie details

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