Gustav Möller's THE GUILTY walks an unsettling thin line to expose issues of police prejudice that are all too familiar in the 21st century
DELIVER US FROM EVIL is a Greek tragedy as much as it is a neo-noir about morality and the misuse of faith.
Bleeder. 1999. Directed & Written by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, Rikke Louise Andersson, Liv Corfixen, Levino Jensen, & Zlatko Buric. Kamikaze.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
People who frequent this site will now be sick of my love for Nicolas Winding Refn. He divides people. Nowadays, some of his supposed fans are really just fans of Drive. Others like his earlier work but find his latest stuff in the past 10 years a bit too much. Furthermore, there are others like myself who enjoy every last inch of film on which he’s left his mark. Not only that, I enjoy his writing alongside his choices and style as director. Not everything works every bit of the time. However, Refn always manages to intrigue me. He pulls at the seams of the brain and makes it unravel, no matter if we’re stuck in the gutters of Copenhagen, the cluttered video shops and bookstores, or whether he’s got you traipsing across the landscape of some foreign place on the way to who knows where – his mind is always working to try and fuck yours. In one way, or another.
Bleeder is in the earlier portion of his career, where the main focus of the stories he told were based in the streets of Copenhagen. First with Pusher, he explored a criminal, drug world. This film is set in a similarly lower class environment in semi-rundown flats and other locations, the characters each lower to middle class types. Above all else, Refn sticks with the gritty, in your face realism of his first feature. Here in his second feature there’s a closer, more personal look into the life of a family that’s falling apart, all due to the husband’s inability to express himself or seek out what he truly wants, instead opting to go along with the status quo – get married, have a kid – when it isn’t what he wants.
The results are tragic and violent.
And ultimately, blood begets more blood.
The biggest, most evident part of Bleeder is how Leo (Kim Bodnia) is so obviously jealous of the single life. More importantly, his problems with the movies, the difference between reality and fiction are what bother him most. See, Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen) is a cinephile, much like myself. He spends a good deal of his time immersed in the world of various directors, auteurs and blockbusters and everything in between. At the same time, that also paints Lenny’s view on life a little unrealistically.
Or does it?
Compared to Leo and his fucked up life, the life he fucked up all on his own, the way Lenny approaches life is quite normal. Also, he looks at what Leo has and wants that while Leo is busy shitting all over it. Lenny’s a more reserved type, likely hoping a movie romance is going to fall into his lap, as well as maybe he’s a bit too reserved, a little anti social. But Leo is stuck in a life he’s not so sure he wants to live. His wife Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson) is pregnant, he doesn’t truly want a kid, then of course he winds up beating the hell out of her. So when he rags on Lenny for watching too many films and when he rages against a movie because it’s unrealistic, what’s really going on inside is that Leo is jealous.
He wants a different life, but won’t get one. Can’t now. So instead he decides to take control, unlike Lenny who he sees as aloof in the obsessive world of cinephilia. He buys a gun, he acts like a movie tough guy but in real life. However, in real life there are consequences. In the movies we see gangsters beat up on their girlfriends and nothing ever seems to come of it. They get off with everything, free to do as they please, to whomever they please. When Leo takes it upon himself to make his life into a real live motion picture, he also must face the consequences. Even better, the climactic moments of this story are wild and almost outrageous. Yet still they’re all too real. So real in fact that it’s almost nauseating.
The gritty qualities of the film are paralleled in the ultimate nasty, defining moment that comes in the last twenty minutes. Added to that, Kim Bodnia – perhaps the world’s most underrated actor – gives us a stellar performance. There’s a scene where he comes to and find himself tied up, hanging from chains, and there’s this odd, moaning sound that emanates from him, louder and louder, longer and longer. It’s actually chilling. Even before that he does a fascinating job with a despicable character. You can see him cracking, gradually, then over the course of the film watch him drift into oblivion. There’s a good progression to the character and it’s only made better with Bodnia in the lead, doing a fine job like he did with Refn’s Pusher as Frank.
Similarly, Mads Mikkelsen is awesome as Lenny. He is one of those actors that has wide range. In some projects he plays creepy, scary characters. Here, he’s a timid and shy guy that has trouble reaching out to women, and instead of being creepy or inappropriate merely keeps to himself. So there’s a nice quietude in his character in juxtaposition with all the horrific realities of Leo’s situation. Watching Mikkelsen an Zlatko Buric together in the video shop is a treat, so different from their interactions in Pusher. They have good chemistry. But Mikkelsen really takes us into Lenny, and you can’t help rooting for him to finally push through to meet that girl he’s interested in.
Finally I cannot forget Levino Jensen playing the character of Louis, the violently racist brother to Louise. This guy is actually endearing in the early parts, even if you know he’s a bit of a hard ass. He just has this affectionate quality to him when with his sister particularly. Then there’s a switch, as Leo oversteps his boundaries and abuses Louise. Afterwards, we see Jensen break out in the character, making Louis into an intimidating person despite his stature. That’s the mark of a solid actor, when the physicality is second to the pure, intense emotion they can bring to a part. Jensen is such an actor, which I honestly didn’t expect. But he adds plenty to the film with his performance.
As opposed to other works from Nicolas Winding Refn, Bleeder is a simple piece of cinema. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. It is raw and to the point, it is brutish, bloody nearing the end and always compelling. This is a close view of violent men; not in the movies, but in real life. Whereas Lenny ends the film embracing a corporeal romance, something palpable and not only the world he loves in the movies, Leo winds up falling into a real life event and story which mirrors the best, bloodiest pieces of cinema out there. It’s perhaps this final hideous act of violence involving Louis and Leo that forces Lenny towards finally stepping into the world, outside the camera’s frame, and finding a life that doesn’t only involve the fictional space of film.
This is a great movie that does not get enough credit. It’s honest and open, while also having an almost surreal aspect in its more intense moments. Refn will always divide people, but I wil always find him interesting, even if I come across something eventually that I don’t like. For now, it’s all good, baby!
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.
A young girl's transformation from girl to woman is plagued by the folklore and superstitions and closed minds of her small little town.
Jagten (English title: The Hunt). Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Screenplay by Tobias Lindholm & Vinterberg.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport, Sebastian Bull Sarning, and Steen Ordell Guldbrand. Danmarks Radio (DR)/Det Danske Filminstitut/Eurimages/Film i Väst/MEDIA Programme of the European Union/Nordisk Film-&-TV Fond/Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI)/Sveriges Television (SVT)/Zentropa Entertainments/Zentropa International Sweden. Rated R. 115 minutes.
Both director-writer Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen are artists I truly admire. I came to Vinterberg while in film school, taking in his heavy 1998 Dogme ’95 feature Festen. Admittedly, it took me a couple views to really settle into it. Mainly because of the devastating subject matter. But once you get into the film and appreciate all its nuances, from its filming to the performances, the whole thing is an impressive experience. Mikkelsen I discovered not long after once watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s fantastic, gritty Pusher (and its equally kick ass sequel). After seeing these first bits of work, I watched more of their films the further into cinephilia I fell.
The Hunt brings two wonderfully talented artists together, with Vinterberg directing and writing alongside Tobias Lindholm, and Mads Mikkelsen starring, as well as Thomas Bo Larsen who appeared in the aforementioned Festen. Tackling a deeply sensitive subject, especially nowadays with too many of these cases cropping up in all corners of the globe, The Hunt is the story of modern day witch hunting, communal relationships, friendship, trust and everything else in between. Pedophilia is a terrible thing, and we’ve seen plenty films based around it – the people involved, the effects of its trauma. However, not many movies opt to take a look at another side of the coin. While too many cases involving a man molesting a child have come to light in modern times, there are also a few cases where men have been innocent, falsely accused of horrendous crimes they’ve never committed, nor ever intended to commit even in their worst state of mind. With this excellent script set in a small, close-knit town, Lindholm and Vinterberg show us one of those tiny fractions in a microcosm. Anchored by an amazing, devastating and all too human performance from Mikkelsen, The Hunt has stuck with me ever since I first saw it a couple years ago.
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a Kindergarten teacher in Denmark. He is a friendly, considerate man. Lucas has a son, as well as bitter ex-wife who doesn’t particularly accommodate him. His friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) fights almost constantly with his own wife Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing). So Lucas often walks their daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) to school, looks out for her and generally makes sure she is all right. However, Klara sees a pornographic magazine due to her piggish brother Torsten (Sebastian Bull Sarning) and his friend. Then later she kisses Lucas on the lips at school. When Lucas explains this is inappropriate and also gives back a little gift she made him, Klara is hurt. This prompts her to make allegations of abuse, though indirectly, against Lucas.
The town soon bands together calling Lucas a pedophile and predator towards children. His new girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) leaves after they have a fight, and he realizes even she doesn’t believe in his innocence. He and Theo are obviously at odds. But Lucas will not lie still and let them brand him as a child molester – something, or someone, must eventually break.
There’s a great change of perspective which happens in terms of how the camera captures Lucas, from before the accusation to after. Early in the film we see him rolling around with the children, very structured and steady shots of their playtime. Then, immediately after the accusation is brought to Lucas, we’re almost right inside his head. He’s standing outside and looks completely in his own world. As soon as a child bumps into him, touching his leg, there’s no longer a happy smile – we’re in a tight handheld shot, staring right at Lucas in the face, and you can feel how psychologically he’s been slammed by the accusation. This technique works so well to really unsettle us as the audience, along with Lucas who is absolutely reeling. This is only one instance of the great cinematography from frequent Vinterberg collaborator Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Submarino, Far From the Madding Crowd).
Even though we’re never given totally subjective moments, accessing the characters and their inner mind, we do get a very strong sense Lucas (Mikkelsen) is innocent. Particularly, after Klara (Wedderkopp) kisses him on the lips, you can really see how uncomfortable Lucas is about the situation. He specifically tells her “kissing on the lips is only for mom and dad“, it is not something appropriate, and even further he refuses the heart she made for him, as it’s not something a child should be giving their teacher (this day and age you can never be too careful). What’s so intriguing, and emotionally draining, is watching Mikkelsen play an innocent man, a man who by all rights would never ever harm a child especially not in such a way, and seeing his friends, the entire community rally against him. It’s actually hard to watch at times, even with nothing graphic being shown onscreen. Just to see Lucas be pushed around by his friends, to watch the looks on their faces change when they see him and how people treat him like vermin, it’s hard.
Part of all this beyond the screenplay is Mikkelsen. He’s got one of those faces which just pulls you in with such incredibly visible emotion. But you can see the pain in Lucas, right across Mikkelsen’s face and in his eyes, the way he moves and holds himself. There are so many scenes in this film alone where you’ll understand it, how Mikkelsen is one of the best actors today. The scenes with his son are wonderful, as well as the only friend who’ll stand by his side in such a time Bruun (Lars Ranthe). These two characters really help add a sympathetic side to Lucas, if you didn’t already find yourself sympathizing with the poor guy. All around, Mikkelsen does a perfect job at displaying the broken humanity in a man who is let down from all angles of his community and society in general.
This is a 5 star film. Whether or not you see the very end as literal or metaphorical, Thomas Vinterberg himself has clearly stated there is no rape at all. The whole thing is fabrication, so those people on the internet trying to determine “Who molested Klara?”, you’re barking up a non-existent tree. This film is first and foremost, and all, about the sad existence of false accusations towards adults who’ve never hurt a child. Plenty out there have tragically hurt children, but a small number end up with false accusations, undue hatred, and being completely ostracized by the people around them when they never did a thing. The Hunt has the guts to face the gale of such a situation, to present us with an unfathomable situation, as well as it demands answers. However, with the ending we’re left to wonder: even if the falsely accused are vindicated, will everyone go back to believing in their innocence, or is the hunt always on from then? Unfortunately, I sometimes find myself believing the latter. In the case of Mikkelsen’s Lucas I’m inclined to see that as a hard, brutal truth.