In Northern Norway during the 1860s, a little girl named Dina accidentally causes her mother's death. Overcome with grief, her father refuses to raise her, leaving her in the care of the household servants. Dina grows up wild and unmanageable, with her only friend being the stable boy, Tomas. She summons her mother's ghost and develops a strange fascination with death as well as a passion for living. Family friend Jacob (Gérard Depardieu) encourages Dina's father to hire Jimmy Rustle, a tutor of American English, who introduces her to the cello. When Jacob asks for Dina's hand in marriage, Dina refuses. Her outraged father slaps her, prompting Dina to attack him. Known that Rustle and Dina have grown close, her father retaliates by sending Rustles away, devastating Dina. Unable to come to terms with Rustle's departure, Dina nearly kills Rustle in a fit of insanity.
When Dina (Maria Bonnevie) is old enough, she marries Jacob and moves to Reinsnes, a port he runs with his mother, Karen, and his stepsons Niels and Anders. Niels doesn't like Dina's wild ways, nor the fact that she has taken over accounting duties at Reinsnes. As Dina's eccentric tendencies become even stronger, Jacob suffers gangrene poisoning after breaking his leg when he falls off the roof of his mistress' house while trying to fix a leak. As Jacob does not appear to be getting better and takes a turn for the worse, Dina takes him on sled to the top of a cliff and pushes him off to his death, hoping to end his suffering and send him to a better place. Jacob's death brings Tomas back into her life and the two have a passionate affair. Several months later, she gives birth to a baby boy that she names Benjamin, that she presumably had with Tomas. She then learns of Rustle's death when the latter bequeaths her his cello and his Writer's Reference.
Some years later, as a child, Benjamin accidentally sets fire to the barn. Dina falls in love with a courageous, handsome Russian named Zhukovsky (Christopher Eccleston) who rushes into the burning barn to save her beloved horses. It turns out Zhukovsky had seen Dina several years ago in Bergen and was smitten by her, and has come to Reinsnes to court her. However, he leaves suddenly and Dina forces herself on Tomas.
Niels, deep into alcoholism, rapes a servant named Stina. When Dina finds out, she issues an ultimatum to Niels: Marry Stina or leave for America. Neils will not countenance marrying a servant, but cannot afford to leave for America. Zhukovsky then returns to Reinsnes to take a prisoner back to Bergen. When a drunken Niels staggers into the house, Dina announces that he too will soon be leaving, to America. Niels then decides to ask Stina to marry him, but she refuses. Overcome with rage, Niels hangs himself.
Dina's father then announces to Dina that Zhukovsky is an anarchist involved in a plot against the King, and is to hang. A distraught Dina rushes to Bergen to try and exonerate Zhukovsky. But when she visits him in prison and her visit's time is up, Dina attacks the guards, who then brutalize her, causing her to lose her baby with Zhukovsky. On the way back to Reinsnes, she is saved by Anders, who stops her bleeding. Her appeal is successful however, and Zhukovsky is released, though no one has seen him since. Several weeks later, Dina nearly drowns while teaching Benjamin how to sail but is miraculously saved by Zhukovsky who is on a nearby steamer. In her near death state, she dreams that she kills Zhukovsky when he announces that he is leaving her again. Dina then comes to, and asks if Zhukovsky is going to leave her again. Zhukovsky says he will always be leaving her, though he says he will always be coming back.
The main theme of the movie is death, and Dina's inability to let go of those she loves. Dina almost kills Loche when she finds out he is leaving her, kills her husband Jacob (as a mercy killing) when she thinks he is dying in pain, and kills Zhukovsky in a dream where he tells her he is leaving her.Maria Bonnevie as Dina
Gérard Depardieu as Jacob Grønlev
Christopher Eccleston as Leo Zhukovsky
Pernilla August as Hjertrud, Dina's mother
Bjørn Floberg as Edvard, Dina's father
Amanda Jean Kvakland as Little Dina
Hans Matheson as Tomas
Jørgen Langhelle as Anders
Mads Mikkelsen as Niels
Søren Sætter-Lassen as Jimmy Rustle
Kate Hardie as Stina
Wenche Foss as Karen
Bodil Udsen as Oline
Anette Hoff as Dagny
Henning Jensen as Gentleman
Jørgen Reenberg as The Merchant
Bjørn Sundquist as Prosecutor
Though the movie is set in 1860s Norway, all the dialogue is in English, resulting in a variety of accents throughout the movie.
There was some controversy surrounding the casting of the movie, as it was felt by many that Gørild Mauseth was the right choice for the part. In the end the casting of Maria Bonnevie was accepted, though the movie took in far less in ticket sales than it had cost to produce.
The film is shot on location in Kjerringøy, in the present-day municipality of Bodø, in Nordland, Norway (according to the IMDb web site), and features spectacular fjord scenery.