Wild Men

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Wild Men
"Underscoring this film are potent themes about masculinity, identity and self-expression. There is also a fair bit of action, and not just of the mountain adventure variety." | Photo: Rasmus Weng Karlsen

The scene in Thomas Daneskov’s droll Danish comedy where it is most difficult to suspend disbelief involves a pet rabbit who escapes from her carrier at a service station and runs away. Rabbits are by nature conservative animals, fixed in their ways and very territorial, so this is unlikely behaviour. The two girls to whom she belonged are distraught. Their mother Anne (Sofie Gråbøl, of The Killing fame) attempts to reassure them that the rabbit will live a happy life in the wild. “No she won’t,” says one of the girls. “She’ll get eaten.”

The girls’ father, Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), has been living in the wild for over a week. he told them he was going to a conference but the longer he spends in his new life, the less he feels able to return to the old one. he was dissatisfied there. it’s something which he struggles to put his finger on. He felt that he was not able to be his true self as a man. Out in the forest, wearing furs, hunting and gathering using tools he made himself, now that’s a man’s life (even if one expedition does involve a raid on a shop). He is living like his Viking ancestors. When one day he finds an injured man, Musa (Zaki Youssef) lying on the hillside, he does what his ancestors would have done, taking him in and treating his wounds, showing hospitality. Grateful, Musa tells him about a village on the other side of the mountains where lots of people have gathered to live a traditional life. Together, they set off to find it.

Underscoring this film are potent themes about masculinity, identity and self-expression. There is also a fair bit of action, and not just of the mountain adventure variety. The sweet-natured Martin, who has a tendency to take most things at face value, doesn’t ask too many questions about what Musa was doing on the hillside and doesn’t notice that the bag he is carrying is full of money. Viewers, however, have been tipped off by a brief prologue involving a car crash. Police attempts to trail the two men do not just concern Martin’s shopping trip and unsuccessful attempt to barter an axe for cigarettes. What’s more, they are not the only ones in pursuit. Unbeknownst to Musa, the two men who helped him to acquire the money survived the crash. They now think that he has robbed them, and they’re seeking a vengeance as bloody as any Viking encounter.

Ought we to feel sympathy for Musa in this situation? Youssef gradually wins us over with his performance. The growing friendship between the two men emphasises the value of trust and makes us privy to little details such as Musa’s longing to provide for a child he has never seen. It also sets him on a redemptive arc, suggesting that his experience of living in the wild will ultimately bring him, and perhaps Martin too, closer to a civilised way of existing.

Whilst it finds plenty of humour in the fixation that some people have on the supposed glory of the Viking past, the film does not mock Martin, who has actually made an effort to research what he’s doing properly and is pretty good at it, cigarette cravings aside. Instead we are encouraged to root for him to find a solution to his woes, and to recognise the obvious fact that he deeply loves the family which is trying to reconnect with him. It affection for its characters gives it an endearing warmth which contrasts effectively with the thriller elements of the plot. There’s also a lovely performance from Bjørn Sundquist as a dogged police officer who is more interested in solving problems than solving crimes.

Personable, witty and entertaining throughout, this is one of those rare pieces of cinema which makes no compromises yet has wide audience appeal. It's well worth hunting down.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2022
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A man in the throes of a mid-life crisis who has decided to try to live like his Viking ancestors unwittingly befriends a robber on the run.

Director: Thomas Daneskov

Writer: Thomas Daneskov, Morten Pape

Starring: Rasmus Bjerg, Zaki Youssef, Sofie Gråbøl, Bjørn Sundquist

Year: 2021

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Denmark


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