Saturday, August 4, 2018

Niels Arden Oplev's marvelous SPEED WALKING: coming-of-age in 1970s Denmark

Who'd have imagined a movie about a death could be so full of life? Those Scandinavians who have read the novel, Kapgang, will already know this, of course. The rest of us will have to view the movie version to discover the delights of this tale of a 14-year-old boy whose mother has just died suddenly, and the loss and grief he and his family are thrown into, along with his also suddenly burgeoning sexuality which finds an object in both female and male classmates.

SPEED WALKING is alternately humorous, hot and heart-breaking, and the manner in which director Niels Arden Oplev (shown below) has brought all this together is quite splendid indeed.

Because the movie takes place in Denmark, the culture and attitudes we see will undoubtedly pull some American viewers up short. How can the adults on view be so cavalier about their own sexuality, let alone that of their children? That the movie takes place in the mid-1970s only points out how backward so much of America was then, and is perhaps even more so now.

Even though the Danes, not to mention the Swedes, were more open and embracing of sexuality, this does not mean that their society did not have its own problems, then or now. As shown here, there were still bullies and big-mouths at school, gossip was rife in the community, and the GLBT population were still seen to a large extent as outsiders.

As adapted for the screen by Bo Hr. Hansen from the novel by actor/writer Morten Kirkskov, the movie hops easily from scene to scene -- school and the speedwalking of the title to a funeral, religious confirmation, sexual exploration and more -- all tied nicely together by the director's skills (Oplev also made the original Girl With the Dragon Tatoo film) and the lead performance from a young newcomer named Villads Bøye (shown above and below, left), who it is difficult to imagine could have given a better performance.

Young master Bøye gets each moment right; he'll move you, surprise you and make you laugh -- sometimes simultaneously. As his best friend and possible lover, Kim, Frederik Winther Rasmussen (above, right, and below, left) is as blond, beautiful and handsome as you could want, while remaining just slightly out of reach -- except for an occasional hand job.

The adults are portrayed by some of Scandinavia's finest actors -- including Borgen's Sidse Babett Knudsen and Pilou AskDavid Dencik and Anders W. Berthelsen (shown at bottom).

The movie reveals how terribly "public" everything can be in a small-town environment at the same time as it shows us how kind and caring these townspeople can often be. Martin's journey toward adulthood, during which he must suddenly act as the only real adult in his family is a difficult one, but it is leavened with so much humor, incident and genuine feeling that I don't think that you'll regret, for even one moment, accompanying him on that journey.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running a just-right 108 minutes, Speed Walking makes its home video debut this coming Tuesday, August 7, on DVD and VOD -- for purchase and/or rental.

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