Sons of Denmark
Ulaa Salim’s Sons of Denmark is a bravura, thrilling, and highly energized debut that’s evocative of filmmakers with far more experience. A story about race, culture, and the rise of Right Wing demagoguery that’s growing increasingly relevant day by day, the movie is also unafraid to lead audiences in extremely discomfiting ways.
Set in the near future, the film begins with a terrorist attack in Copenhagen where dozens are killed. We meet Zakaria (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed), a man who becomes disenchanted as his Danish countrymen grow increasingly vitriolic and unapologetically Nativist. He’s drawn to a local leader named Hassan (Imad Abdul-Foul) and is encouraged to carry out an attack on Martin Nordhal (Rasmus Bjerg), a smarmy if effective politician whose anti-immigrant screeds have drawn a wave of populist support. Teamed with Ali (Zaki Youssef), the two begin plans to respond to the constant belittling of their existence within their homeland, where the definition of who “belongs” to the country remains fraught with contradiction.
From there, the film takes some remarkable turns. It’s a highly sophisticated and impactful look at the varying allegiances of those involved. The plot relies a bit too heavily on some twists that are telegraphed well in advance, but Salim’s story remains so frighteningly relevant and well realized that even these missteps can be forgiven. There’s a sickening horror at the heart of the film fueled by events that take place daily on the news. The story is specifically Danish yet feels entirely universal.
Bjerg’s role as the demagogue is thankless, but he’s chillingly convincing with smiling rhetoric that’s evocative of the Nationalist screeds occupying much of the world these days. Zaki Youssef’s own journey is the most complex, and he manages to bridge the many elements that he must occupy in this harrowing tale.
To Salim’s credit, the film never feels like a political sermon, but instead illustrates how this stuff is difficult, and that even the most cathartic of actions does little to right the many wrongs. Owing a tremendous amount narratively to Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, Salim’s film may not quite scale to the heights of that masterpiece, but it does add to the discourse about fairness and liberty, doing so within a context that’s likely too sensitive for those who pay lip service to liberalism while comforted by their own stability.
It’s a damn shame this film has seen little in the way of international acceptance. It has played mostly in Scandanavia after debuting at Rotterdam. Cheers to the Fantasia programmers in Montreal for giving it a showcase. It may not be perfect, and the ending veers towards the simplistic as if the ideas had run out of steam, but that does little to dim the electric debut Salim makes. Sons of Denmark is an immense achievement by a talent to watch.