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Sons of Denmark review - political thriller stirs cauldron of hot-button issues | reviews, news & interviews

Sons of Denmark review - political thriller stirs cauldron of hot-button issues

Sons of Denmark review - political thriller stirs cauldron of hot-button issues

Ulaa Salim's debut feature asks pointed questions about racism, terrorism and fascism

Zakaria (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed) and Ali (Zaki Youssef)

The first feature by Copenhagen-born director Ulaa Salim dives boldly into a cauldron of hot-button issues – terrorism, racism, nationalism and fascism. It’s set in 2025, in a Denmark suffering from bomb attacks and violently polarised politics. This climate has spawned the titular Sons of Denmark.

They’re a gang of neo-Nazis preaching racial purity and zero tolerance of immigrants, singling out Muslims for especially hostile treatment, threatening them with severed pig’s heads and slogans daubed in blood.

We don’t get to learn much about the Sons of Denmark themselves, who remain sinister, masked figures emerging occasionally from the shadows to commit some new outrage, but we do go behind the scenes of the Muslim opposition movement. The mastermind is Hassan Mahmoud (Imad Abul-Foul), whose seemingly benign, bearded exterior masks a ruthless and calculating mind. Hassan runs an underground refuge for homeless Arab immigrants, but he also plans to curb the right-wing excesses of politician Martin Nordahl (Rasmus Bjerg, pictured below), whose National Movement looks set to form the next Danish government on an anti-immigration platform. There’s only circumstantial evidence of Nordahl’s links with the Sons of Denmark, but they seem to operate as his provisional enforcers.

Salim has structured his story around a pair of main protagonists, Zakaria and Ali. Zakaria (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed) is a 19-year-old refugee from Iraq, who now lives with his mother and younger brother in an unprepossessing tower block. His widowed mother is sweet and gentle and is desperately keen for her family to blend into Danish society. Zakaria is restless and angry and is looking for a way to express his resentment at the West’s contemptuous treatment of Arab countries. Hassan sounds him out and picks him for his assassination job on Nordahl.

Rasmus Bjerg in Sons of DenmarkWhether it was a smart idea to use such a naive and untested youth for this demanding mission is left unexplored, but he does at least get some solid mentoring and handy weapons training from Ali (Zaki Youssef). Ali is older, self-contained and quietly purposeful, but when Zakaria goes on his lethal mission, Salim pulls a rabbit out of his hat and flips the story on its head. The focus moves to Ali, and his own ambivalent attitude to trying to be a responsible citizen in a society turning violently against him and his fellow Muslims.

In a Europe struggling with immigration issues and with so-called populist parties on the rise, Sons of Denmark loudly bangs the drums of contemporary relevance, and there are real politicians and voters in Denmark who don’t want multiculturalism or non-Western immigration. Nordahl plays the part of the reasonable, patriotic leader with his immaculately Nordic wife, only concerned to maintain the traditional values of his country, but Bjerg’s skilful portrayal lets us see the snarl behind the outward veneer. Compared to Borgen’s impeccably liberal Birgitte Nyborg, Nordahl is the dark side of the Moon.

Salim carefully – at 120 minutes, sometimes too carefully – builds tension and fleshes out his characters, often with intimate, close-focus photography. He’s notably sparing with his use of violence, so that a climactic home invasion sequence is especially shocking when it’s finally unleashed. In some ways his screenplay is over-simplistic – Nordahl seems to be free to operate in a one-party political vacuum, and the police are clueless and ineffectual. The ending vigorously semaphores its arrival a mile off. Yet the film touches a nerve. It would be comforting to think that things could never really get this bad, but these days, who knows?


It would be comforting to think that things could never get this bad, but these days, who knows?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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