Saturday, August 7, 2010

MIFF 2010 Review: Brotherhood

Dir. Nicolo Donato
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: TBC
Running Time: 97mins

I'm not sure what it is that the Danes have in their water supply, but they are somehow able to churn out cinema of a better quality than almost anywhere else. I'm sure any Danish people out there will easily be able to refute such a claim - everybody has serious issues with their home country's film industry - but for such a small country they seem to pop up on the international film circuit far more often than others and Donato is another name to include on the list of names such as Lars Von Trier, Lone Scherfig, Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen and Thomas Vinterberg. And their abilities to deal with issues such as the Iraq war, religion and, in the case of Brotherhood, homosexuality in ways that put others to shame.

The synopsis for Nicolo Donato’s debut film reads like a satire on film festival movies: Two gay neo-Nazis fall in love! And it’s got subtitles, too. If they ate pudding then this would be a big comical joke. Brotherhood is, however, far more than just a typically mopey arthouse drama trying to shoehorn as many important "issues" into its running time as possible. It is a poignant, tender and ultimately destructive look at how the power of love can tear apart at anybody, anywhere. Even, it would seem, neo-Nazis.

Brotherhood stars Thure Lindhart as Lars, a general who quits the Army after he is accused of sexually harassing several of his soldiers. He soon falls into a crowd of neo-Nazis who aim to rid Denmark of Pakistani refugees, the violence from which is brutal and confronting, but Lars falls for fellow "comrade" Jimmy, played by David Dencik. Together they navigate their insular world, trying to keep this secret that could prove fatal if discovered. It’s a powerful indictment on society’s lack of understanding of gay people, and even the lack of understanding by gay people themselves, as well as a compelling look at Denmark’s hidden race issues and proves to be a stunning, teary-eyed romance between the most unlikely of characters.

Despite the fact that it's about characters as repulsive as neo-Nazis, the way the romance was told was done so delicately that it almost didn't matter. I feel the very point of the film that is you can fall in love with anybody and that no matter the personal circumstances you just can't fight it. Even if you're indoctrinated to hate gay people as they are here, and the gay bashing scene that opens the film is discomforting in its realism, there are some things that even being a neo-Nazi can't protect you from.

Performances are uniformly great with the standout being Denkic. He has mostly worked on television and had a part in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, plus a quick Google search shows he regularly looks nothing like the hulking skinhead that he does here, but his performance blew me away. Such anger and sadness within him, expressed to vividly on his face. The film has the visual look of much Danish cinema - it looks overcast and natural, but that is definitely the best way to represent the material. This isn't a romanticised vision of a gay relationship like Brokeback Mountain. When violence is committed against one of the men it shows in brutal closeup and the way these two men court each other, in their own way, is far more realistic. Brokeback Mountain played its way, Brotherhood plays another and in some ways it's even more impressive.

One might consider the neo-Nazi aspect as, perhaps, a gimmick used to rile up controversy - gay Nazis would surely arouse more interest than a mere gay romance even world, surely - but it works as a parallel to any other group of people, whether it be a sports code, a workplace or wherever. In nearly every society gay people are forced to hide their relationships and here is no different. It also helps that director Donato, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rasmus Birch, has shown the obvious homo-erotic tendencies of the movement and the hypocrisy it implies. This, too, leads to a fascinating look at the inner-workings of the neo-Nazi groups that have apparently found growing numbers in Denmark that I feel I am too uneducated about to really comment. Brotherhood slayed me, I'm not going to lie. A


Colin Low said...

This (and the poster) looks like they got greenlighted off that fake trailer in Tropic Thunder with Robert Downey Jr and Tobey Maguire as award-baiting gay monks.

richardwatts said...

Each to their own. I thought the screenplay was seriously underdeveloped, and the relationship between Lars and Jimmy unbelievable. If D is a bare pass, I give Brotherhood a C-.

(My full review is posted here: