Copenhagen: Slamdance Review

COPENHAGEN Slamdance Screengrab - H 2014

COPENHAGEN Slamdance Screengrab - H 2014

First-time director takes an incisive look at the bond between an immature man and a wise teenage girl.

Mark Raso makes his directorial debut with a film that centers on an age-inappropriate relationship.

Several movies have been made about age-inappropriate relationships that verge on child molestation. One of the best of the lot, Copenhagen, was featured at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival. Two excellent performances bolster a thoughtful script, and the result is that the discomfort we feel seems perfectly controlled by the filmmakers. The movie is candid and disturbing but never exploitative.

William (Gethin Anthony) has come to Copenhagen from New York to try to locate a grandfather he never knew. William is established at the outset as a crude, lecherous character with little on his mind but bedding as many women as possible en route to his mission. Anthony nails William’s piggishness without trying to remain likable, as so many actors do when they’re playing disagreeable characters.  His travel plans begin to unravel when his friend Jeremy (Sebastian Armesto) heads off to London with his girlfriend, and William is left on his own. He meets a young woman working at his hotel, Steffi (Frederikke Dahl Hansen), who agrees to help him find his grandfather. He does not realize that she is just 14 years old and a student intern at the hotel, for she seems far more mature. Although he tries to resist the attraction when he discovers her age, Steffi turns out to be less inhibited than he is.

STORY: Slamdance Winners Announced

As William learns some startling revelations about his grandfather’s past and confides to Steffi about his troubled relationship with his own father, we begin to gain more understanding of William’s stunted behavior. We also see a change in him as he responds to Steffi’s openness and wisdom. In a scene in which he watches Steffi sing at a club, Anthony illuminates a deepening compassion in William.  Throughout the film, Anthony — who is actually British — gives a marvelously expressive performance.  He allows us to come to care about William without ever softening or falsifying the character.

Hansen is just as remarkable; this young Danish actress has a promising future. (She was actually 19 when she made the film.) We discover that her family history is also troubled, which no doubt accounts for her surprising maturity. The increasingly intimate scenes between the two are forthright but leave room for the audience’s imagination to fill in details of their encounters.

Canadian-born director Mark Raso filmed the movie on location in Copenhagen with a Danish crew, and he makes excellent use of the city’s familiar tourist spots as well as less recognizable neighborhoods. A striking scene in front of the city’s famous mermaid proves to have plot significance as well as picture-postcard beauty. Kudos to cinematographer Alan Poon as well as to Raso. All in all, the director makes an impressive feature debut. Throughout the film he demonstrates a fine sense of tact and proportion. The open-ended, bittersweet conclusion seems exactly right and leaves us contemplating the future of these vibrant, three-dimensional characters after the lights come on.

Venue: Slamdance Film Festival

Cast: Gethin Anthony, Frederikke Dahl Hansen, Sebastian Armesto, Olivia Grant, Tamzin Merchant, Baard Owe

Director-screenwriter-editor: Mark Raso

Producers: Mauro Mueller, Mette Thygesen

Executive producers: Daniel-Konrad Cooper, Burton Ritchie, Joseph Raso

Director of photography: Alan Poon

Production designer: Peter De Neergaard

Music: Agatha Kaspar

Costume designer: Rocio Lopez

No rating, 98 minutes