A wild Nordic romp with a serious message

Reviews by Joyce Glaser wild men (May 6, 2022) Certificate 15, 102 mins

Recently, The times The newspaper reported that former advertising executive Harry Wallop gave up his six-figure salary and easy urban lifestyle to live off the grid in a makeshift cottage in Dorset. He made this decision when his deteriorating mental health was making it difficult for him to cope with normal office life. A similar lifestyle shift, albeit more radical and far more whimsical, is the starting point of Thomas Daneskov’s entertaining Danish black comedy wild men. A whimsical hype with a serious message, the film is reminiscent of Morten Tyldum’s great Norwegian comic thriller headhunterif it lacks the excitement and sophistication of this film.

We find each other in media res when a burly, bearded man dressed in animal skins and armed with a bow and arrow robs a supermarket at a gas station somewhere in Norway after assaulting the owner. Previously we’d seen him miss his target in the wild, and maybe that’s why he was sobbing.

The man is Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), known for his Danish accent, who, as we learn later in the film, was happily married to Anne (Sofie Gråbøl), proud of his two beautiful daughters and good home.

Though seemingly unaware of this, the Viking wannabe is a wanted man: wanted by his family, who drive down from Denmark to find him, and by the incompetent local police, whose manhunt is compromised by an officer unlike Martin wants to go home to his wife and home-cooked dinner.

There are two parallel stories running alongside and overlapping with Martin’s. The first involves a trio of cannabis smugglers on their way to the ferry to Europe when their car hits a moose and crashes into it. Musa (Zaki Youssef), chosen for this ethnicity, has a gash on his thigh but is in better shape than his two accomplices, who are covered in blood and unresponsive when he tries to wake them.

With the police having to find them, he hobbles away with a bag full of cash when Martin finds him lying in the woods in pain. Martin offers to take Musa to the hospital. When Musa refuses, Martin stitches up his wound in a scene not for the faint of heart.

The police find the crashed car, only the two smugglers survived and are looking for Musa in a motel near the ferry terminal. Musa and Martin are now being hunted by the two criminals and the police. Despite being chalk and cheese, the two wanted men forge a bond in adversity. They make their way to a modern Viking camp where Martin hopes to find kindred spirits, but only finds hypocrisy and disillusionment.

The second parallel story introduces Detective Inspector Oyvind (the wonderful Bjorn Sundquist), whose character fits into the Nordic noir tradition we see on TV. Oyvind may be a bit older but the typically talented and dedicated yet grumpy and world-weary detective, worn down by the system and his failed personal life.

While patiently dealing with his two assistants, Oyvind misses his late wife and may feel guilty for not having time for her during her illness. There is a moving scene in which Oyvind meets Anne and seems determined to reunite her foolish husband with the loving, strong wife and mother he takes for granted.

With the exception of Oyvind, Daneskov eschews the sadness of Scandi Noir on the one hand and the quirky, dead, mannered style of the great Finnish director Aki Olavi Kaurismäki on the other, in order to arrive at a style of his own. The result is an uneven tone – the film lacks laughs in this absurd pursuit – and it’s difficult to get a grip on Martin or sympathize with him to the end.

Does he rob the gas station because the Vikings don’t deal in money and he stays in character because he claims free food or because he lost it and uses violence to pay bills? A similar situation occurs in the Viking camp, where Martin charms a woman serving food until she asks for payment, at which point he becomes hostile.

It could be that Martin believes that those living in the wilderness like him should share, and he leads by example, sharing food with Musa and the little medical care he can give him. He is also willing to help Musa escape from his accomplices and the police, ignoring the money in Musa’s pocket, which he doesn’t care about.

And one doesn’t have to be a Freud to suspect that Martin, with his macho, Conan-the-Barbarian outfit and self-sufficient, rough lifestyle, is making up for a sense of emasculation in his middle-class life in Denmark.

Several scenes stand out. Alongside Oyvind’s conversation with Anne, two grieving souls and the encounter of Musa and Martin, there is a devastating scene in which Anne finds her husband dressed in animal skins and disguised to avoid being found by the search party. A few scenes miss the mark, including a subplot involving a rabbit and Oyvind’s last stand.

Daneskov keeps his three strands moving, deftly crossing himself to the beautifully ambiguous ending. wild men is not on a par with headhunter (Norwegian), woman in war (Icelandic-Ukrainian) or Jar Cit (Icelandic), but as a fresh twist on the male midlife crisis theme, it offers a satisfying mix of madcap adventure saga and sidekick flick from a writer-director with a flair for believable relationships.

A wild Nordic romp with a serious message

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