The Elite


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Elite
"Daneskov's remarkable debut film is evocatively shot."

Carl (Nikolaj Bæk) picks up a girl. They discuss where to go. "I've got a castle," he says. It's almost true. When he can't find his keys, he breaks a window in order to get access. He will repeat this pattern, in various ways, for the rest of the film.

Denmark is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. It's now reached the point where it has 70,000 dollar millionaires. A lot of them have children, a generation of trust fund kids who have never known any kind of struggle. Growing up in that situation, how does one develop a sense of direction? For some people it could be empowering; for others, the absence of need just feeds ennui.

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Carl's father is in hospital; he sits in a supported wheelchair, failing to respond to stimuli, perhaps the victim of a stroke. He doesn't have any apparent need of his castle. Carl will have to wait for the rest of his inheritance but he decides to avail himself of the building right away. It's a warm, well-intentioned plan - he invites his friends to stay so that they can develop their artistic projects free from the pressure of having to support themselves. They spend blissful days together, swimming in the lake, sitting out on the balcony with glasses of wine. The wine supply seems endless. There's a lot of champagne. Other people come to visit, from time to time, to join the party. Carl calls a coke dealer but doesn't actually have any cash, so the dealer asks if there's anything in the house that he's thinking of selling.

There's little in the way of malice from anybody in this film. The dealer, Joachim (Ali Sivandi), just expects to get paid for the products he provides; he's friendly, helpful in the kitchen, a good babysitter when Carl and his friends choose to trip. It's a professional relationship for him, of course, but if there's exploitation going on, it's also happening in the other direction. Carl is milking him for stories for his next book - for experiences of the real world which he knows nothing about. There's a suggestion that this is more than professional, that Carl has a need for these stories to let him feel alive.

Where desire crosses over into need, things begin to go wrong. Occasional drinking and occasional cocaine use are one thing. Doing it every day turns into something else, at least for Carl, whose need reveals an emptiness which nothing seems able to fill. There's no clear turning point. Moments of joy and sadness are scattered throughout the film; it's just the ratio that changes. The initially lighthearted Carl becomes gradually more unpleasant to be around. One gets the impression that he doesn't like his company much, either.

A subtle and surprisingly moving depiction of the process of becoming an addict, Daneskov's remarkable debut film is evocatively shot and perfectly captures the thrill of being free to behave irresponsibly. Cinematographer Jasper Spanning makes the most of the beautiful location, seducing the viewer just as Carl is seduced, and the unsustainability of it all only strengthens its appeal. The difference is that, at the end of the film, the viewer is free to walk away.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2016
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The Elite packshot
A privileged young man invites his friends to his parents' lakeside mansion where the party doesn't stop, but what is the price of excess?

Director: Thomas Daneskov

Writer: Emil Nygaard Albertsen, Thomas Daneskov

Starring: Nikolaj Bæk, Ali Sivandi, Thomas Persson

Year: 2015

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Denmark


Glasgow 2016

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