For Min Brors Skyld (English title: For My Brother). 2014. Directed & Written by Brian Bang.
Starring Elias Munk, Christopher Friis Jensen, Allan Karlsen, Frank Schiellerup, Oliver Bjørnholdt Spottag, Tina Nørby, Frederik Ingemann Brandt, Lara León, Marie Louise Lund Jensen, Kit Langberg Rasmussen, William Gaarde, Robin Koch, Oliver Skou, Dorte Evalyn Evon, & Tobias Hyttel. Bang Entertainment.
Not Rated. 117 minutes.
Before getting into this review, I have to state the following.
TRIGGER WARNING: this movie contains several graphic scenes of sexual abuse and rape, as well as implicit and explicitly implied situations of incest, et cetera. PLEASE, if you have an aversion to any of this, turn back. And certainly don’t watch the film.
First time writer-director Brian Bang (also serving as cinematographer, producer, locations scout, editor, casting director) has come on strong with his feature For Min Brors Skyld, which I’ll refer to from here on in by its English title, For My Brother.
This is an excruciating look at the life two young brothers live saddled only with their father, their mother having died seven years before. Their father is an abusive man, both physically and sexually, and he also allows a friend of his to molest his oldest son in return for money. The oldest boy takes care of the youngest, sheltering him from the life he’s been forced into by his father. Right from the start we’re aware of the abuse. Unlike an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or some typical drama tackling the subject, we’re never kept in the dark. And that’s part of why Bang’s feature is so brutally effective, even though it occasionally steps in too deep for its own good.
With a movie like this there’s often a headlong dive into sensationalism, as people become aware of the abuse and either revenge or justice starts to work its magic. However, Bang keeps us rooted in the experience of the boys, and this is what sets it apart from similar projects. Yes, it is often hard to watch, especially when the graphic qualities jump out at you during various scenes. Despite that, our immersion in the perspective of the older brother Aske (Elias Munk) particularly is how Bang manages to keep us interested and still watching after the plot turns nastier than nasty. There are a couple moments I’m not sure of, in the sense of morality and also writing. On the whole, For My Brother is a psychologically harrowing piece of cinema, and also with its reality takes upon itself the role of showing viewers just how hopeless, never ending, horrific the sexual abuse of children really is, never pulling any punches and never once keeping the gloves on.
This sort of stuff always hits close to home for me. I don’t particularly enjoy sitting through any sexual assault scenes, in any film. Funny enough, Irréversible is an amazing movie, as is the original Wes Craven The Last House on the Left. Yet I still have to fast forward through the former’s infamous scene, and take no pleasure in the latter’s either. However, when these types of scenes or themes involve children, that’s tough to take. Any person in their right mind would feel that way, especially if they’ve been close to abuse or have been abused themselves. Ultimately, I feel what Bang does here with his story is not exploitative. We do in fact see a few graphic moments, one sees a bunch of men holding Aske down as he’s blindfolded, taking turns raping him. In fact if you can make through the initial scene, you’re not likely to turn away. Bang opens with an event that’s traumatizing. There’s nothing aggressive happening, other than emotionally aggressive, yet the impact is lasting. You’ll be revolted so quick, so hard and fast that moving forward will certainly be questionable for many. Worse than that his mother dies after being hit by a car. Not only is it sad anyway, but she is the one lifeline that Aske had, now that’s gone. So you almost feel like you’re on the verge of Dante’s Inferno, rimming a Circle of Hell, as the mother dies and unwillingly must leave her son in the hands of his paedophile father. Horrifying to begin a film. If you hang after the first 15 minutes, the rest (mostly) isn’t as bad.
For My Brother expresses the inescapable feeling abused children feel, that they continue to feel. Often people wonder how someone, once they’re older, can go on letting things happen, or at the very least go on without telling of what’s already happened before. It’s because of the cycle, the systemic degradation and humiliation of a young person by the abuse. Here, it’s twofold, as Aske’s father Lasse (Allan Karlsen) has pimped him out to others since the boy was young, also taking his turn, too. So after years and years, especially as a male being raped by his own father, the desire to stay silent is stronger. Like any other behaviour, the sex in all forms is completely routine. In opposition, sex is also warped. Much as Aske wants to be with a girl he can’t seem to get the job done, at least not right away. A young girl flips on him for not immediately getting an erection, so worse now is the shame. At this point in the film, Aske tells his close friend in a rage. Not all victims will even tell anybody. Many only find their greatest shame discovered after people find out somehow, and if it’s an ongoing thing it could go on forever. That’s the unfortunate point Bang gets across as a writer.
Without spoiling the end, this movie is grim through and through. There are only slight glimmers of hope. These come when the brothers are together. This is why the film has its title. Aske not only tries to protect his brother (as in “I take the abuse for my brother”), he likewise keeps living because his brother is the sole bright spot in his life (as in “I only live but for my brother”). Moreover, the actor that plays Aske – Elias Munk – does a fantastic job. It’s hard to play a role like this, as it can easily descend into melodrama. Coupled with the ultra realistic style of Bang’s direction, Munk makes the character feel real. He is complex. He is tortured, but also has a light and foolish side that comes out with his brother. Seeing him deal with the brutal life his father forces upon him is emotional, you’ll probably find a tear or two ready to form, if they don’t full on fall. Similar to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance in Mysterious Skin, Munk plays this edgy, tough role with grace and power. I’ll definitely be seeking out other films he’s in to watch him again.
I have to mention Frank Schiellerup playing the hideous pervert Hans. Basically, he’s the villain of the movie. Alongside the father, of course. From the beginning he is a terrifying presence in Aske’s life. Once the boy’s mother dies you can almost feel the guy ready to crawl all over him like a serpent on its prey. There is something eerie about him and so I have to give credit to Schiellerup. He makes Hans into a proper monster.
This is not a movie I’ll recommend. If you’re brave enough, go ahead. It undeniably does have a message. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s gratuitous for the sake of being harsh. For all its nastiness, it could easily have been nastier. Absolutely. There is a slight, if barely visible hint of restraint. Either way, For My Brother does not sugar coat any of its subject matter. It also doesn’t offer any hope. Not saying this is a requirement. Not all stories are the same. Though it’s notably admirable for a film to try spearheading a raw, honest depiction of child abuse. While there are plenty elements which could’ve been executed better (the score mainly did nothing except detract from the realistic style), Brian Bang does pretty good for his first feature, and again, commendable to take on such a controversial, difficult topic as he does. Here’s to more hard looks at the tough corners in life. Bang will hopefully do something else gritty next time, looking into a different pocket of our fucked up world.