Friday, June 10, 2011

The Case for Danish Fraternity

There are so many film festivals that come through Wellington that one has to be a bit picky as to what one chooses to actually go and see.  While the International Film Festival (still to come) tends to have a really decent selection of some varied, crafted films, some of the others serve as "art packages", hiding dross that would otherwise be relegated to the straight-to-video bin were it not presented as part of a greater culture, be it Italian, French, documentary or Amnesty International themed.

One of the festivals to be particularly wary of is Out Takes, where the label of "festival" is sometimes applied to give what is practically just p0rn a veneer of respectability.  The Out Takes programme at least warns (or alerts) potential patrons to which films will be hard core and which will actually have a story line, making it easier for people to choose by which type of movie they would rather be challenged and/or stimulated. 

From my perspective, there have been some gems in the past: I remember many moons ago enjoying the hilariously pink But I'm a Cheerleader ("Is that really RuPaul?  No!  But yes!  And there's Melanie Lynskey!  Hi!") and the offbeat Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, but not every year contains a film that piques my interest.  This year, intrigued by the independent indication of quality granted by a prize awarded in the Rome Film Festival, I took the plunge with Brotherhood (Broderskab in the original Danish).

Brotherhood is not an easy film to watch, dealing as it does with neo-Nazis. But I was particularly impressed that it dealt with its subject matter in a very grown up way: the neo-Nazi leaders were shown as charismatic men who could attract extreme loyalty, at the same time as distancing themselves from the actions of their acolytes; Lars, the lead, is shown as a young man searching for a place to belong, an easy shared sense of family, even though he falls in with a group with whom he does not really see eye to eye.  And then when Lars falls in love with one of the other guys in the chapter... well, things are bound to get messy.

It has to be said that this movie does not work as an advertisement for Tourism Denmark - unless, perhaps, if you are a skinhead.  The place is shown as a dark, cloudy, cold and bleak country, with barren, claustrophobic houses and apartments, and where even its Nazi groups have to draw inspiration from the Confederate States of America, loyalty oaths are pledged in English and the rules of joining the club are mundanely bureaucratic, with many a form to fill and pieces of propoganda to memorise.

And that is, of course, the film's greatest strength - it all feels so real.  Sure, there are a few contrivances along the way, but it all makes sense and all seems entirely plausible, in its understated and bleak way.  It's really very good, but definitely not for everyone.

Verdict:  I don't recall seeing many Danish films, but that may have to change.  Brotherhood felt brutally real in its portrayl of the neo Nazi lifestyle, and how, for certain disenfranchised people, joining such a cult could seem a really empowering, emotionally uplifting idea.  Of course, that club comes with a lot of baggage, baggagae that can come around and beat you up in the end.  Not a nice film, but it definitely gives the audience a bit to think about.  8 pastries out of 10.

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