From first-time director Nicolo Donato comes this movie he co-wrote with Rasmus Birch, and which won best film at the Rome Film Fest. And which, for such an unremittingly heavy and bleak film, comes with the ludicrously chipper [and numbingly banal] tagline "Love Conquers All."
We're in Demark. We open with two guys cruising in a field. One of them is Neo-Nazi skinhead Jimmy. He wants to "see" the other guy, so he asks him to open his shirt and take down his pants. When the guy does, he is jumped and beaten by other guys who had lay hidden.
Then we meet blond Lars, getting discharged from the Army because two of his troop complained that he made passes at them. He goes home to his domineering mother and weak father, and that night is hanging with some friends when Michael, bearded [and suffciently creepy] leader of the Neo-Nazis comes by. Lars gets up tp leave, and they have words, during which Lars expresses his disapproval of the Neo-Nazis. Then Michael comes out to invite Lars specially to a party they're having on the beach. He goes. Soon he is being goaded to throw a bottle through the window of an immigrant center, and with the group as they set on and beat the man who comes out.
First Lars finds out his mother went behind his back to get him another Army position, then she condemns the act of violence she reads about in the paper. Lars tells her that he did it. She calls him stupid, and next thing you know, Jimmy is getting a call from Michael that Lars is coming to stay with him. Jimmy doesn't like Lars because Michael gave newcomer Lars a favored place in the organization over his junkie brother Patrick.
Jimmy is cool to Lars at first. Then they go to a party and are roughhousing, although there are a few moments where it looks like they might kiss. Soon they go for a late-night swim together, and when showering after, Lars pulls Jimmy in for a drunken kiss. They wake in the morning, each seemingly freaked to find themselves in bed with a man, and Jimmy refuses to talk about it the next day. Looks like it's all under the rug--until Jimmy suddenly attacks Lars with kisses.
At the next meeting, Lars pointedly brings up Ernst Rohm [Hitler’s second-in-command who was known to have homosexual tendencies], causing Michael to say that some don’t believe he was homosexual. You can see Jimmy is made intensely uncomfortable by this conversation. They refer to the victim of the original gay bashing at the beginning, and Lars asks about it. "This organization doesn't like homosexuals" Jimmy says. Nevertheless, in their private lives, you can see the men falling deeper in love. At one point Jimmy goes to the store to order a flagpole for the cottage where they’re staying. He gives his address for delivery of the pole. The person who takes his information and rings him up is the gay fellow he beat up in the first scene.
SPOILERS > > >
So Michael makes an announcement that it’s time to induct a new member—and that member is Lars. This means that Lars leapfrogged Patrick, which Patrick is not at all happy about. [Personally, I made it through the entire movie believing that Patrick was Jimmy’s boyfriend that he dumped for Lars—a wrong interpretation that actually works and makes the motivations throughout a bit more interesting]. Lars tells Jimmy that he won’t accept the nomination, and that he and Jimmy should run away. Jimmy says at this point the group won’t let them out, then later says he just needs time to think about it. Well, ever heard the phrase “He who hesitates is lost?”
Okay, now we’re going to discuss the ending of the movie, so if you want to see it, I seriously advise you to skip past the end of the spoilers, because there are some unexpected turns coming up.
Lars accepts the nomination. Jimmy picks a fight with some Pakistanis at a bar, and gets beaten badly. Lars takes him home and sends Patrick, who offers to stay over, home. Lars—who is dumb enough not to close his shades—curls up in bed with Jimmy. Patrick sees. Patrick goes to Michael. Michael calls Ebbe, the big regional leader. Ebbe comes for a sudden visit, and sees the bed, obviously slept in by two people. Then after the next group, Michael menacingly announces that they have a special surprise for Lars and Jimmy, and they all get in the car and take a drive. They force Jimmy to beat Lars [at this point someone in my audience walked out], then leave them both in the field.
Jimmy takes Lars home to gather stuff quickly before leaving. On their way out to the car, someone comes out of the darkness and stabs Jimmy. We only see the figure quickly, but it is the gay guy who Jimmy beat in the very first scene, who had gotten his address when Jimmy ordered the flagpole for delivery. We then see the rest of the brotherhood posing in front of the flagpole, and the completed renovated cottage. In the last scene, Patrick is watching over Jimmy in the hospital. He says the doctors aren’t sure Jimmy will ever wake up. Lars looks as though he forgives Patrick, takes Jimmy’s hand—and the screen goes dark. That’s it.
< < < SPOILERS END
I liked it very much, although I was not entirely surprised to hear that there are people who did not like it at all. Some of the things they dislike are the clichés—they’re homophobes who are gay, Lars has a domineering mother and weak father, etc.—but those things didn’t bother me. The other valid complaint is that we are offered no explanation why Lars would join this group, especially when he is so clearly against it at the beginning. Okay, we get the whole brotherhood and alienated from society thing, but if Lars has been making passes at guys, he has some inkling that he’s gay, and it is illogical that he would knowingly join this anti-gay group. Perhaps we’re supposed to believe that Lars really is closeted and in some way hopes joining the group can help him be rid of his nasty urges? If so, we need something more to indicate that [which is making me reflect on how, nowadays, you really have to go out of your way to prove that a gay character is closeted, as it has become just so normal to assume that they’re out and adjusted to their sexuality]. Still others bristle at the pat-ness of some of the twists toward the end.
So all those complaints are valid points, but for me they’re all mostly trumped by the quality of the performances. The script is good, none of the lines seem contrived, but what you can’t write is the way that Lars and Jimmy seem to be truly in love, truly troubled by their challenges, and truly blissful and carried away by their feelings. They are both very good, I don’t mean to slight Thure Lindhardt as Lars in any way, for he is very convincingly inward, rebellious and excited by his feelings for Jimmy, but it's David Dencik as Jimmy who creates the impression most people will remember. For not only does he seem really in love with Lars, but we see in his huge brown eyes—which get much effective play—that he is haunted by fear of what will happen to them if they are discovered, and a thousand unknowable thoughts we have no clue about, but which give him a very believable depth and humanity. So I would say this is one of those movies that may have flaws, but gives cause to forget those flaws through the quality of the performances and its overriding emotion.
This invites direct comparison to Brokeback Mountain, and not just because they’re closeted guys tentatively falling in love in an anti-gay society, but also because their romance develops as they stay together at a remote location, and they need to keep it secret. And they have no idea what kind of future they could possibly hope for together. And one who tires of the traditional gay fare and would like to see something that allows space for nastiness and unruly feelings—as opposed to repeats of well-worn agenda items such as “we’re all okay” or that “we’re just like straights only we dress better and throw better parties”—will find some interesting, unusual stuff to latch onto here.
Now, after all this, you realize how ludicrous and off-putting that "Love Conquers All" tagline is. If they want to be all positive and make this movie out to be the feel-good self-loathing-gay-neo-Nazi movie of the year, why don't they just say "Unicorns Are Free!" or "Happy Bubble Fun Time!!!" It would make about as much sense.
Yes, it’s an involving and moving love story between two men.