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Copenhagen may be hosting next month’s Eurovision Song Contest, but it’s the Danish capital’s grittier homegrown music-scene, which drives Fenar Ahmad‘s arrestingly confident debut Flow (Aekt vare). Lower of key and more authentic than most showbiz rags-to-riches tales, it follows talented young rapper Mikael as he progresses from what passes for the city’s ‘projects’ to the fringes of the big time, seeking to retain his street-credibility along the way. A lively cast featuring some real-life rap notables, consistently slick visuals and no-nonsense pacing amply justify the picture’s selection as opener of the country’s biggest film-festival, CPHPIX, and positive word-of-mouth should boost domestic appeal after a May 8 bow. Festivals with late-night, youth-oriented slots to fill should certainly check out this likeably fresh enterprise, one which deserves at least as much international exposure as Michael Noer‘s Northwest from last year–though that blandly forgettable English-language title won’t exactly boost its chances.
The original (slangy) Danish roughly translates as ‘the real deal’, an epithet which Mikael deserves thanks to the AK47-staccato of his delivery and the hard-knock poetry of his rhymes. As played by Kian Rosenberg Larsson— better known to aficionados of the genre as ‘Gilli’– he’s an easygoing, laid-back, quietly-spoken sort, eking a meager living as a scaffolding laborer. But a chance encounter brings him to the attention of established recording-star Apollo (Rasmus Hammerich)–a gruffly declamatory veteran who needs a youthful “sparring partner” to help him retain his edge–Mikael trebles his daily wages at a stroke. His new-found status is, however, received ambivalently by his long-time best friends from the suburban tower-blocks where he grew up, nearly all of whom are of immigrant, Muslim backgrounds.
Rosenberg Larsson’s Mikael thus fulfils a similar–and similarly somewhat awkward–function as Paul Walker‘s Brian O’Connor from the Fast and the Furious franchise: A white-bread, blue-eyed lad through whom audiences are able to access an exciting, multi-racial urban sub-culture. And, as with Walker/O’Connor in the Hollywood series, Flow suffers somewhat in that Mikael, despite having the bulk of the screen-time, can’t compete with several of the supporting cast in terms of humor, charisma and presence. Among these the MVP is another screen newcomer, Ali Sivandi, who gruffly steals every scene he’s in as Mikael’s irrepressibly motormouth best pal Tariq, providing the picture with regular, much-needed boosts of energy.
When Sivandi’s not around, Flow relies on Ahmad’s smart manipulation of familiar stylistic tics and tricks, most of them copied from Stateside predecessors–just as Mikael and company so studiously emulate the examples of their trans-Atlantic idols. But just as the Copenhagen crew, who rap only in Danish (with the occasional American-English word thrown in), manage to give their chosen art-form a distinctive local accent, Ahmad’s often-audacious approach to sound and image–especially in set-pieces like a nightclub scuffle and a jarringly violent baseball-bat assault, both of which showcase the contributions of editor Martin Friis–ensure this is a worthwhile strut around well-worn turf.
Ahmad, who attracted international attention with his 2010 short Megaheavy , copes particularly well with slow-motion, a technique which can reveal the limitations in much more experienced directors. Both Ahmad, a 33-year-old Czechoslovakia-born son of Iraqi refugees, and scriptwriter Anders Olholm (also responsible for current US release Antboy) truly seem to know the milieu they’re depicting inside out, their lively argot-marbled dialogue and a palpable sense of place combining to persuasive effect.
Venue: CPHPIX, Copenhagen (New Talent competition), January 24 2014
Production company: Beofilm
Cast: Kian Rosenberg Larsson, Ali Sivandi, Rasmus Hammerich, Marijana Jankovic, Lirim Jusufi, Frederik Christian Johansen
Director: Fenar Ahmad
Screenwriter: Anders Olholm
Producers: Morten Kjems Juhl, Nina Bisgaard
Executive producers: Meta Louise Foldager, Peter Hyldahl, Morten Revsgaard Frederiksen
Director of photography: Niels A. Hansen
Production designer: Kristine Koster
Editor: Martin Friis
Music: Jens Ole Wowk McCoy
Sales: Beofilm, Copenhagen
No MPAA rating, 90 minutes
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