By Jeff Farr
Danish director Nicolo Donato’s “Brotherhood” is a stylish meditation on the multiple meanings of brotherhood. The film centers on the love affair of two young men within a homophobic and racist community of neo-Nazis.
“Brotherhood” begins with Lars (Thure Lindhardt) seeing his future in the military suddenly washing away. His expected promotion to sergeant level evaporates, when his superiors receive a couple of reports that he had made passes at his men.
Returning home dejected to live with his parents, Lars finds that some of his old friends have fallen in with a local neo-Nazi group. He is initially disgusted by this violent “brotherhood,” which is primarily focused on intimidating Pakistani immigrants, and rejects the group’s recruitment attempts.
Although the screenplay, by Donato and co-writer Rasmus Birch, is mostly convincing, Lars’s motivation in putting aside his conscience and going deep into Nazi life is a weak point. Ostensibly, conflict with his parents over his derailed future pushes him over the line. But throughout the film, Lars comes off as way too smart to be running around with this gang. Is it just that he finds the Nazis cute?
The leader of the gang (Nicolas Bro) immediately sees strong leadership potential in Lars and starts to quickly groom him for full membership. Jimmy (David Dencik), the group’s No. 2 man, is much less enthusiastic about Lars, but winds up getting tasked with showing him the ropes, which he only does begrudgingly.
When Lars’s parents kick him out, he becomes Jimmy’s roommate at a remote summer cottage, which Jimmy is renovating for a Nazi higher-up. Jimmy is forced to take Lars in, but a bond between them grows as they spend time together working on the house. Soon, they are engaged in a passionate sexual relationship and forbidden love.
The lovers, isolated at the cottage from the rest of the group, enjoy a doomed idyll of swimming, repairing the house, studying the neo-Nazi code, and making lots of love. Lindhardt and Dencik, with strong chemistry between them, capture how both men are torn over their relationship but unable to resist their mutual attraction.
In a film with many strong performances, Dencik is a real standout. We can feel the character’s sensitive nature, which has been buried for years under many layers of Nazi toughness, always itching to get out and express itself. Even when toeing the party line, his eyes plead for help.
To the brotherhood of the young Nazis and the sexual brotherhood of Lars and Jimmy, Donato adds one more tale of brotherhood, a subplot involving Jimmy and his troubled younger brother, Patrick (Morten Holst), who is also with the Nazis. A drug addict and clearly unstable, Patrick becomes consumed with jealousy as he watches Lars speedily receive the full membership that has long eluded him.
When Patrick catches Lars and Jimmy in bed together — and Jimmy refuses to deny the relationship — Patrick turns against the couple and reports what he has seen. Right when Lars is ready to get out of group, hoping that Jimmy will join him, the leadership outs the lovers in a most violent way.
Although the film’s conclusion may push the melodrama too far, Donato shows mature restraint throughout. We never feel that we are watching a sensational “gay neo-Nazi” movie; this is above all a love story.
The cinematography, by Laust Trier-Morch, and score, by Simon Brenting and Jesper Mechlenburg, contribute much to the film’s subdued tone. “Brotherhood” has one major sex scene — Lars and Jimmy’s first encounter — and it is tastefully shot and scored–genuinely sexy.
But the film’s best scene takes place during one of the group’s regular meetings. When two of the men start calling each other “faggots,” Lars jumps in with a mini-lecture on the fate of Ernst Rohm, the powerful Nazi leader who was eventually executed on Hitler’s orders. Lars insists to his fellow Nazis — who actually seem to know little of Nazi history — that Rohm was targeted for his homosexuality. The atmosphere in the meeting becomes increasingly tense as Lars goes into the details of Rohm’s death: how the Nazis put him in a room with a loaded gun and told him he had fifteen minutes to shoot himself; how Rohm refused to comply. Nazis turning on Nazis: none of these young men seem to have ever previously considered that possibility.
Lars’s history lesson, though, is really for Jimmy’s benefit. He is trying to show Jimmy what kind of group they have joined and what could ultimately happen to them if they do not find a way out soon. We have already seen that whenever Lars tries to talk about these issues with his lover, Jimmy becomes highly agitated. So Lars addresses them in a public way, although only he and Jimmy are aware of the full subtext. Jimmy listens intently, starting to feel Lars’s concern more deeply.
It is a simple scene, but it works on many different levels, and it is exemplary of the fine filmmaking Donato displays through most of “Brotherhood.” Although there is sadness to this film, Donato is ultimately arguing that brotherhood at its best has the power to awaken even the most lost of men.
Lars – Thure Lindhardt
Jimmy – David Dencik
Michael – Nicolas Bro
Patrick – Morten Holst
Ebbe – Claus Flygare
Mother – Hanne Hedelund
Father – Lars Simonsen
An Olive Films release.
Produced by Per Holst.
Directed by Nicolo Donato.
Screenplay by Rasmus Birch, Nicolo Donato.
Director of Photography, Laust Trier-Morch.
Editor, Bodil Kjaerhauge.
Music, Simon Brenting, Jesper Mechlenburg.
Running time: 90 Minutes.
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