24th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival: TMC reviews Brotherhood
Brotherhood tells the story of Danish service man Lars and his drift into the dark world of the Danish Nazi Party. A successful young commander until two of his men accuse him of having made a pass at them, the film follows his disenchantment with the army and his attempt to adjust to a life outside of it. He encounters the local party through an old friend and his initial hostility towards the neo-Nazis gives way as they provide him with the camaraderie which he lacks in civilian life. Meanwhile the sinister leader of the group (a well-dressed older man known as ‘fatty’) grooms him as a potential leader because of his eloquence and leadership skills.
Soon he becomes a key figure in the local group and, as he severs ties with his liberal family, he moves in with another ex-serviceman: the skin-head Jimmy who at the start of the film lured a man into a vicious beating when posing as a cruiser at a cottaging spot. Lars and Jimmy are tasked with renovating a dilapidated old cottage which the party leader wishes to use to house members and foreign guests. Alone in the wilderness, the begrudging respect between the two men eventually moves through friendship and into passion. The rest of the film tells the story of this relationship, as they struggle to make their peace with it before, perhaps unsurprisingly, everything falls apart. I won’t give away the plot of such a superb film though, suffice to say, it’s not exactly uplifting.
My favourite scene in the film takes place in the mosh pit at a Nazi punk gig. Lars is literally tossed around by forces beyond his control. He looks adrift and alone within a crowd but then Jimmy reaches to him and suddenly he’s not alone. They embrace passionately, still part of the crowd and yet distinct from it. It’s a beautiful visual metaphor which captures the moral circumstances in which a young man like Lars gets drawn into the neo-Nazi movement (embrace by the brotherhood offers protection from an isolating and disturbing world) as well as how a gay relationship could flower within it.
The direction is masterful throughout. The camerawork is grainy and furtive, as its constant shifting brings to the fore the paranoia and ambivalence which defines the world in which the Nazis move. The film demands the attention of the viewer, as much is left unsaid throughout and communicated through cautious glances and knowing looks, however the unfolding of the story is conducted so arrestingly that it would be difficult not to follow the film closely. These great virtues notwithstanding, it has to be said that the script is lackluster in parts. While it certainly provides a fascinating and seemingly authentic insight into the subcultural world of Danish neo-Nazis, it is at times overwrought. I won’t spoil the ending for those who might yet see the film but it exhibits a degree of heavy-handed dramatic resolution which simply doesn’t fit with a film defined by its gritty realism. The script simply seems too neat for the messy world it portrays. Brotherhood movingly portrays the emotional pull of neo-Nazism for young men seeking to make sense of their place in an increasingly confusing world. Yet rather than accept the ambiguity which this world presents to human beings searching for meaning, the script wraps up the story in a way which is both depressing and unsatisfying. This is a shame because it took the gloss off what was otherwise an extraordinarily adept piece of film making.