Miss Viborg: A story of a solitary beauty queen

Miss Viborg

There is something undeniably alluring about cracking open the tough exteriors of the main characters and uncovering their tenderness and warmth on screen, which always seems to work. This appears to be the central idea behind the creation of Solvej, our main character, in “Miss Viborg”, the feature directorial debut of Danish director Marianne Blicher.

“Miss Viborg” was one of the European films screened at the 13th edition of the Nepal European Union Film Festival (NEUFF), organised at the CDC Mall in Kathmandu under the theme “Fifty Years of EU-Nepal Relations: Celebrating Cultural Diversity”, which ran from March 20, 2023, to April 20, 2023. Nine European films and 11 Nepali short films were screened during the festival, which then went to Sudurpaschim Province, Lumbini Province and Karnali Province last month.

Solvej Hansen, played by Ragnhild Kaasgaard, is a bad-tempered, overweight 61-year-old woman living an isolated dual life in the social housing area in Viborg, Denmark. Although her life looks bland and out-of-touch from afar, she is a former beauty queen living a secretive life full of colours and dreams inaccessible to others. 

She wakes up to the view of a seashore on the wallpaper adorning her bedroom wall and practices Spanish in her free time. Unbothered about her unhealthy eating habits, she holds the memories of her fiance and her days in the pageantry like a safe cushion, allowing their comfort to envelop her. An unanticipated peculiarity renders her an interesting character to watch: She is saving money by illegally selling her prescription drugs to adults in her town to buy a timeshare in Malaga, Spain. 

The story gains momentum when her day-to-day life gets disrupted by her next-door neighbour Kate (Isabella Moller Hansen), a 17-year-old teenager, who breaks into her house to steal her drugs and accidentally drops her phone. Solvej injures herself in an attempt to catch the burglar and later finds the phone with Kate’s wallpaper in her flat. From then on, we see the development of an unusual friendship between the two females belonging to vastly different times.

Contradictions and vulnerabilities

The makers have poured their thoughts and soul into creating an interesting character like Solvej, who is full of contradictions and vulnerabilities. According to Blicher, the characters are inspired by the environment she was raised in. Solvej’s character is a fusion of memories from a man in her neighbourhood who sold prescription medicine to fund annual trips with his sick wife, and a former beauty queen who used to engage in solitary conversations. Kate was conceived out of Blicher’s imagination as she pondered what might have occurred in their lives had these people met someone like her.  

As Kate offers to help Solvej with her daily activities, she gets to peek into the secretive duality of Solvej’s life. She is fascinated by the postcards of different countries stuck on the refrigerator and asks if she has been to these places to which Solvej replies, “You don’t want to get stuck here in Viborg, that would be sad.”

What adds charm to this film is the subtle humour in the writing of Marianne Blicher and Rasmus Birch. The awkward chemistry between Kate and Solvej is so palpable and funny, making them a comical or amusing duo to watch. The film has many moments where nothing happens and the narrative only follows Solvej as she navigates her life in her small apartment or converses with her dog, Poul Reichhardt, named after a 70s actor. But these scenes aren’t dull or boring as the makers are able to exude humour, even through visuals and sound. Through the delicate music of bells, vibraphone and accordion, we can almost sense how time moves sluggishly in the mundane, lonely life of Solvej. Furthermore, the film follows a classic four-act structure, characterised by two turning points: Solvej’s encounter with the burglar and when Kate runs away from home to find her father. 

A fairy tale in the ghetto

Miss Viborg
Miss Viborg

In an interview for Cineuropa, Blicher had said that she wanted to make the film look like a fairy tale in the ghetto, and her visuals perfectly convey these emotions. From Solvej’s striking blue eyeshadows in the opening to infusing the bright colours in her apartment and attire, the art directors have cleverly played with the aesthetics to reflect Solvej’s pageantry background and her yearning for her happier, youthful days. The story’s setting, summer, offers a feeling of lightness and matches the lighthearted mood of the film. The deliberate use of light colours visually represents hope and the positive spirit that defines Solvej’s character. 

Martin Munch, the cinematographer, has also done a masterful job of portraying the nuances of Solvej’s life through steadfast, observant shots of Solvej within her apartment, which carry the essence of slice-of-life storytelling. Moreover, the close-up shots of Solvej’s body at the beginning while she gets dressed, where Munch delicately reveals the conflict within Solvej, allow us to deeply empathise with her circumstances.    

With Ragnhild Kaasgaard’s riveting performance, it is hard to believe that she is a theatre actor who has never been in front of a camera. Her acting resonates with the audience in a way that makes the story believable and makes us feel as if Solvej could be our next-door neighbour. She effortlessly captures the toughness and self-sufficiency of a 61-year-old, while also delicately delivering a depiction of the emotional state and vulnerability of a woman who is living with the weight of her glorious past.  

Although the film has a smooth flow throughout its 99 minutes, the ending is too predictable. The scene where Kate and Preben Elkjaer (Kristian Halken), the lorry driver who helps Solvej find Kate, flip through the pages of Solvej’s memory book and discover her hidden past is quite sentimental and cliche. Furthermore, Kate’s potential as a character felt unexplored and her character development was somewhat unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, Isabella Moller Hansen beautifully portrays the bright yet conflicted teenager who views Solvej as a guardian and looks up to her. Considering her promising performance in “Miss Viborg”, her first feature film, she is an actress we must watch out for.      

The story concludes with the grandeur of the Danish version of Dean Martin’s song: Everybody Loves Somebody, which gives the film the perfect ending. Overall, Miss Viborg is a heartwarming feel-good movie that will have you laughing and crying, all the while allowing you to empathise with the complexities and imperfections of its characters. Moreover, it illustrates how unpredictable friendships between individuals have the potential to be transformative and leave an indelible mark on them. It is also a story about giving chances to those around us, especially in today’s culture, where people are increasingly becoming individualistic and indifferent to their surroundings.

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Deepali Shrestha is currently pursuing her bachelor's in media studies at Kathmandu University.

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