Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2012 1:46 pm 
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Hulk leaves home

This character study by Danish first-timer Mads Mathiessen (not be to confused with international Danish leading man and villain Mads Mikkelsen of Casino Royale and Susanne Bier's After the Wedding) focuses on an unusual protagonist, Dennis (Kim Kold), a hulking 38-year-old body builder who has never had a girlfriend and is stuck in a highly unhealthy relationship with his tiny, domineering mother Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft), with whom he lives in a suburb of Copenhagen. Using ultra-simple methods and documentary-like settings Matthiessen gets us and Dennis out of this dilemma, through a series of cringe-worthy sequences. Non-actors predominate here, except for Steentoft, a veteran actress. Matthissen has expanded a short (entitled Dennis) into this film -- without adding quite enough for a feature. The cringe-worthiness is what makes the film hold the attention, temporarily, anyway, becaue in the moment things feel painfully real -- often like excerpts from some strange TV dating show. Linking details and subtleties, however, have been omitted and this somewhat plodding tale doesn't ultimately hold up to scrutiny.

Kim Kold is a real international body builder. No actor, no matter how dedicated, could build up those muscles and put on those tattoos for a role. His deep, gruff voice toots out like the horn of a train engine. He has no fancy lines to deliver. Dennis is shy and inarticulate. This Kold can handle, and his imposing physical presence helps us to accept him as a character. He is what he is. At the film's outset Dennis is on a date from Hell with a local girl that's a miserable failure -- which his mother nonetheless strongly objects to when she hears of it. The unhealthy intimacy is indicated by how mother and grown son use the bathroom together. When Dennis attends a celebration for an uncle who has found a bride on a trip to Thailand, he gets the same idea. But he has to hide his trip to Pattaya from his devouring mother by telling her he's going to a competition in Germany. She still throws a tantrum.

In Pattaya everyone assumes Dennis is a sex tourist, which makes for several embarrassing evenings with women for hire, arranged through a local bar owner, Scott (David Winters), who claims to have introduced his uncle to his wife. Dennis' non-performance in these setups, and his rapport with co-trainers in the body building gym, plus Thailand's gay sex trade, make you wonder if Dennis is of another persuasion, but this possibility isn't raised. All these scenes involve non-actors who provide a tacky realism. Then when Dennis goes to a local body building gym and meets Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard), the widowed proprietress, and she takes him around town, mutual romantic feelings develop. This situation is awkward too, but Toi nonetheless winds up coming to Copenhagen to live with Dennis some time after his return home. How he is going to manage his mother's furious reaction when she sees through his deceptions is something viewers will have to wait and see.

Matthiesen manipulates us and his characters through his sequences somewhat awkwardly, but a sympathy for Dennis is inevitable. He is too simple and needy not to feel for. His mother is surreal. Details are left dangling by Matthiesen and his co-writer Martin Zandvliet, however. Dennis' financial situation and Toi's prompt move to another country when she owns a business are unexplained. How Dennis and his mother work things out also lacks credibility. For that matter Dennis is not a wholly believable character. Could he really have lived all this time with his mother and not be as twisted as she is? Writer-director Matthiesen grabs our attention, but doesn't justify holding onto it.

Teddy Bear (93 min.), whose Danish title is 10 Timer til Paridis or "10 Hours to Paradise," is in Danish and English. It debuted in January at Sundance and in Denmark. It is slated for showing at several other festivals, including the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series, New Directors/New Films, in connection with which it was screened for this review. Public showings at ND/NF are scheduled as follows:

Thursday, March 29th | 6 PM | MoMA
Saturday, March 31st | 8:45 PM | FSLC

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