Mardi Gras Film Festival 2023 Review: The Venus Effect (Venuseffekten) ★★★1/2

Danish lesbian romantic drama, The Venus Effect (Venuseffekten), closes out Queer Screen’s 30th Mardi Gras Film Festival with subtle charm. This gentle story is a sexy and sweet treat to round off an excellent 2023 festival.

Liv is a young woman on the cusp of change. Living in rural Denmark, she is surrounded by orchards and a loving, progressive middle-class family. Her gay brother and his partner come home to help with the harvest, while her boyfriend is sweet and caring. Things are shaken up when the loud and chaotic Andrea turns up; on her way to her ex-girlfriend’s bachelorette party. Unlike her brother who is a picture-perfect queer assimilation, Andrea is an explosion of artistic liberalism that refuses to hide her vibrant colours to fit in. 

When Liv breaks up with her boyfriend to be with Andrea, her act of honesty shakes the family dynamic in unexpected ways. As she struggles to settle into her own sexuality, and her family changes around her, Liv is left questioning where she fits in. 

The strength of The Venus Effect is that Liv’s sexuality is merely the starting point for a more nuanced film about a woman coming to understand herself and the people around her. Liv is growing up and learning that life is more complex that it seems. Her unease with the brash and older lesbians in Andrea’s circle leaves her worried about the future. “I can’t see myself in your rainbow fantasy,” she tells Andrea at one point, and shares with her brother that she doesn’t feel “gay enough to be gay”, before he points out that his journey wasn’t smooth either. Letting Liv exist in this grey area gives The Venus Effect more weight than many similar coming out dramas.

Writer-director Anna Emma Haudal ties Liv’s story to the natural world around her, with beautiful imagery by cinematographer Valdemar Winge Leisner. The sun-dappled spring at the start of the film makes way for a wintery finale. Some fruit becomes wine and cider, while some rots on the ground. The constant march of time, and nature’s verdant give and take remind us that Liv’s problems are comparatively small in the grand scheme of things.

Johanne Milland Liv’s is a likeable young everywoman, struggling with her own insecurities and those forced on her by the people around her. Her tentative steps into her own sexuality are sweet, as she discovers a new world of highs. While Liv spends a lot of the film quietly looking uncomfortable, around her Haudal has placed a series of A-grade talents who balance things perfectly. Danish legends, Lars Mikkelsen and Sofie Gråbøl play her parents, Klaus and Gitte, in unshowy, richly layered performances. Josephine Park—an alumnus of Haudal’s groundbreaking series Doggystyle—imbues the role of Andrea with a messy allure.

While not groundbreaking, The Venus Effect draws more subtly from the familiar story of queer awakening than most. Although it is being promoted as a rom-com, don’t expect a lesbian Bros or Spoiler Alert, the comedy is Scandi low-key. Beautifully shot and acted, this is an assured film with an engaging story well told, and a great way to end the Mardi Gras Film Festival for another year.

By Chad Armstrong

The Venus Effect screens as the Closing Night Gala of Queer Screen’s 30th Annual Mardi Gras Film Festival. Click here for tickets and more information.

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