Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

"The intensity between her and the angry young man drives the action in Sons, capturing a relentless cycle of aggression reverberating throughout the sullen halls." | Photo: Courtesy of Berlinale

Gustav Möller's sophomore feature follows a female prison guard whose life is disrupted after the transfer of an inmate she recognises from her past. As the violent repercussions of personal biases surface, the tense drama builds up with each thrown punch. Stemming from a haunting sound design and two formidable lead performances, Sons possesses a turbulence that grabs the audience with riveting vigour.

Eva (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an officer in a low-security ward engages in her daily routine. She is courteous to the inmates, who respond to her kindness. Her activities focus on rehabilitation and supervising the maths and meditation classes. She seems idealistic and looks content with her present life. But the arrival of a group of prisoners presents her with a disturbing fact - an inmate who caused her significant pain in the past just transferred to the facility.

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Focusing on Eva's strained facial expression, Möller captures a claustrophobic atmosphere that instantly grips the viewer. Paired with a constricting environment and the mysterious connection with Mikkel (Sebastian Bull), the inmate, she feels compelled to approach him. She does this by transferring to the high-security ward. Even before her decision, Knudsen's sudden shift from a carefree demeanour to an intense focus signals a gritty narrative that thrives in extreme emotions.

Jasper J Spanning's meticulous cinematography sets the scene for the first meeting between Eva and Mikkel. The high-security sector is austere and houses men deemed irredeemable. And yet she steps behind the first set of barricaded doors determined to face someone who fundamentally changed her life. The intensity between her and the angry young man drives the action in Sons, capturing a relentless cycle of aggression reverberating throughout the sullen halls.

In this bleak sequence of cuts and blows, the Nordic director highlights contrasting depictions of rage. She is methodical and wants to administer pain at the slowest pace possible. The violence-prone youth is driven mad by Eva's arbitrary punishment. Each punch sends shivers down the spine, the acute sound design latching on to their turbulent exchange throughout. As the abuse reaches a boiling point and Eva's ulterior motive begins to surface, Möller allows the story to breathe, introducing Mikkel's mother, Helle (Marina Bouras).

As Eva glances at the visit, she exercises remorse, understanding that inmates might deserve redemption for the sake of their loved ones. Sobering close-ups reveal Mikkel's now-surprising youth, as he becomes the victim in Eva's mission for revenge. On the other hand, she faces an investigation for what her supervisors perceive as reckless behaviour. Under pressure, Knudsen's usually steely eyes lose their resolve, signalling a reckoning with what has become a consuming obsession.

Seizing the chance to manipulate her, Mikkel threatens to press charges against Eva. This reversal of power feels artificial and threatens to dispel the gripping momentum of the suspenseful drama. There's something to be said about her motivations, as she shows genuine regret, despite being forced to carry chores for the young man. But the frequency of threats to sue makes the situation far-fetched. It's a trump card that quickly loses its merit, particularly as it contradicts Eva's well-written rigour.

Nevertheless, Möller weaves a solid story about the complex dynamic between personal trauma and power. Suspending morality within the prison's sunless corridors, he takes the audience on a compelling yet challenging journey that demands a visceral reaction. At the core of the struggle, the two leads exhibit a potent, if not uncanny, chemistry, creating an uneasy atmosphere where their anger threatens to erupt at any point.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2024
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Sons packshot
A prison officer faces a dilemma after a young man from her past is transferred to the jail where she works.

Director: Gustav Möller

Writer: Gustav Möller

Starring: Dar Salim, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Jacob Lohmann, Sebastian Bull, Marina Bouras, Olaf Johannessen, Siir Tilif, Bashar Al-Saoudi, Thomas Voss, Frantz Dupuis, Rami Zayat

Year: 2024

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Denmark, Seden


BIFF 2024

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