Kød & blod
starring Sidse Babett Knudsen, Sandra Guldberg Kampp, Elliott Crosset Hove, Besir Zeciri
written by Ingeborg Topsøe
directed by Jeanette Nordahl
by Walter Chaw Opening like a film from the New French Extremity, what with its phantom images of a deadly car accident set as a framing event for everything to follow, Danish director Jeanette Nordahl's Wildland (originally Kød & blod, or "flesh and blood") resolves as a domestic implosion in the vein of David Michôd's Animal Kingdom. The accident has claimed the mother of pretty, taciturn 17-year-old Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp), leaving her at the mercy of social services, who deem in their wisdom to place Ida with her Aunt Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Bodil has three grown sons who, at her direction, are involved in a criminal enterprise of sorts, and Wildland's MacGuffin is the collection of a debt from a recalcitrant client. What the game is is never terribly clear, but it's obvious that this is not an ideal environment for Ida following her recent trauma. Neither is it clear whether Ida was complicit in the fatal accident, though her dreams and fantasies--and the claustrophobic way Nordahl shoots her film in general (and Ida in particular) in long, unbroken closeups--certainly suggest Ida feels guilty about something. I don't mention these opacities as a detriment: far from it. Nordahl's picture isn't interested in the sundry details of its MacGuffins because they are MacGuffins.
Wildland is about a troubled teenager afloat on a veritable sea of troubles, as all teenagers are troubled and afloat on a sea of troubles. Ida is looking for safe harbour, whether it be with a mother we only remember through Ida as disapproving and angry, or with an aunt who, although she will occasionally lose her shit and start throwing hands, nonetheless provides a kind of love and simple acceptance that feels like sweet succour to the wind-tossed and lost. The brothers--Jonas (Joachim Fjelstrup), David (Elliott Crosset Hove), and Mads (Besir Zeciri)--are by turns mute and insinuating, kind and cruel, fun and non-communicative. They orbit around their mother like misshapen satellites in deteriorating ellipses, picking up speed towards the horrible thing that happens at the movie's midpoint, and then the horrible thing that happens at the very end. They are each disturbed and broken, and we spend time wondering how it is that Bodil has failed them as we watch her fuss and coo over them, stroke their hair, tell them she loves them. Has love ruined them? Perhaps the thing Ida wants the most at this crossroads in her life is poisonous at every other point before that juncture. Maybe children need firm consistency and teenagers need unconditional love. Maybe it's the other way around. I wish I knew.
Wildland finds short-film director Nordahl coming into her own on a larger stage. It's a work of patience that reminded me a lot of the early films of Norweigian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland--especially Aberdeen, which, over the course of a long road trip, sits quietly in the spaces between an estranged, grown daughter and her alcoholic father. Wildland is similarly, intimately, keenly interested in where Ida is at all times in her understanding of where she belongs in this new world spread out before her. When a house-toss goes bad, leaving Ida as the only one of her family's "gang" identified, Bodil gives her a choice to be by herself again or to ingratiate herself to the clan in a way that, ironically, serves to isolate her more. This choice, as it's presented to her, plays in my head against scenes where Ida is out with her cousins, drinking and dancing in clubs, pulled into the undertow of breathless pubescent nights, out of control with people who love you. It feels like when you're a child and someone swings you around off the ground. You never feel like that again when you get older, not really, but you keep looking for that sensation. I think Wildland is ultimately saying that chasing the things you've lost will end with you being lost, too, but Ida--I don't know, she seems like she might be okay. Nordahl is the real deal. I can't wait to see what she does next. Programme: Selection 2020