'The Elite' ('Eliten'): Copenhagen Review

Courtesy of CPH PIX Film Festival, Copenhagen
Lively Danish indie motors on chutzpah before running low on gas.

Nikolaj Baek and Ali Sivandi star in Danish newcomer Thomas Daneskov's drama, winner of the main prize at Denmark's CPH PIX festival.

Ali Sivandi confirms his status as the liveliest presence in Scandinavian — possibly even European — cinema with his invaluable supporting turn in Thomas Daneskov's confident calling-card The Elite (Eliten). Having irresistibly stolen the show in his only previous big-screen outing, last year's underappreciated mean-streets-of-Copenhagen rap-saga Flow, Sivandi repeats the trick in this shoestring-budgeted, independently-financed chronicle of an experiment in communal living's descent into tragedy, debauchery and decadence. Success in competition at Copenhagen's edgy CPH PIX event (landing the punningly-named 'New Talent Grand Pix') will doubtless open doors to further festival play, with director/co-writer Daneskov a reasonable bet for bigger and better things in future years.

He is evidently aware, however, that early success and the accompanying spotlight can prove excessive for certain creative individuals, such as his burly, curly-haired protagonist Carl (newcomer Nikolaj Baek). Having made a splash with his first ("miserably pubescent") novel, Carl finds the weight of expectation a considerable yoke across his broad shoulders when working on the follow-up — a project which shares its title and themes with Daneskov's film. But the screenplay, co-written with Emil Nygaard Albertsen, resists the temptation of tricksy inter-textual cleverness, instead observing Carl's (very "first-world") travails at a certain distance. And while viewers may detect certain Shakespearean undertones — Hamlet by way of The Tempest, perhaps — such aspects are subtly incorporated.

Over-stimulated by the capital, Carl withdraws to his family's castle-like, lakeside mini-mansion where he's able to live on what's evidently a very generous inheritance. He's joined by a quartet of young, photogenic pals: musician Danny (Casper Morilla) — whose guitar-strumming provides intermittent diegetic score — poet Michael (Mads Reuther) and photographer Sara (Shelley Levi). Fictional communes in cinema are, of course, near-invariably a recipe for friction and disaster — even in Scandinavia, where real-world equivalents often prosper. And so it duly proves here, the collapse hastened by the arrival of Carl's drug-dealer Joakim (Sivandi) and then the numbing impact of a booze-fuelled tragedy (a crucial scene which Danesov handles with aplomb.)

But while Joakim's initially invigorating impact on Carl's productivity, health and wealth ultimately proves negative, Sivandi's live-wire, motormouth presence gives The Elite a kick up the backside just when the picture needs it most. The charismatic, blinged-up, consistently amusing dude from the wrong side of the tracks reveals the never-especially-sympathetic Carl and his chums for the spoiled, pretentious hipsters they are, and it's a shame that in the third act Daneskov runs out of ideas for the character. The final stretches reveal the newcomer's inexperience as Carl's predictable decline — drink, drugs, sex, etc. — is mirrored by that of the movie itself. Proceedings fizzle out of gas way before the needlessly protracted, fatally self-indulgent bathroom-sequence that wraps things up on an unsatisfactorily abrupt note.

By this stage, however, The Elite has done enough for several of its personnel to stamp themselves as names to watch —  and Daneskov is being celebrated in Denmark as the poster-boy for a new strain of filmmaking that gets by with minimal or zero state subsidy. Sivandi's the MVP, of course, and is palpably ready for a juicy lead role. But cinematographer Jasper Spanning makes an auspicious start to his feature-film career, crafting visuals that work wonders with natural light. It's 20 years since Denmark's playfully rambunctious Dogme95 'brotherhood' set out to revive art-cinema with a re-injection of punk-DIY spirit, but Daneskov, Spanning and Co. — while breaking no particularly fresh ground — can at least plausibly position themselves as heirs to that inspirational, promotionally shrewd movement's legacy.

Production company: Eliten Films
Cast: Nikolaj Baek, Ali Sivandi, Thomas Persson, Casper Morilla. Mads Reuther, Shelly Levi
Director: Thomas Daneskov
Screenwriters: Thomas Daneskov, Emil Nygaard Albertsen
Producer: Lina Flint
Cinematographer: Jasper J. Spanning
Production designer: Simon Iversen
Costume designer: Camilla Nordbjerg
Editor: Carla Luffe Heintzelmann
Composer: Mathias Dehn
Sales: Nordisk, Copenhagen
No Rating, 79 minutes

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