Berlinale 2020: Danish Gangster Tale ‘Wildland’ Fails to Convince

by Redmond Bacon

Berlin Film Festival: Review of Jeanette Nordahl’s Kød & Blod

There’s always something a bit creepy about a woman who kisses her sons on the mouth. Then again, there is nothing normal about Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen), matriarch of three unruly boys who make up her small gangster family clan. She evokes Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom, fully made up with the fake nails, hair extensions, and endless bangles. Terrifying while remaining maternal, she slaps her boys about while making them sandwiches.

When seventeen-year-old Ida’s (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) mother dies in a car crash, the poor child is forced to live with Aunty Bodil and her male cousins, who introduce her to the harsh world of hard-partying, sexuality, debt collection, and drug addiction, forcing her to come of age much younger than she should. The result is an intense exploration of masculinity — both inherited and performative — that is a little too somber to really dig deep into its central subject matter.  

eanette Nordahl's Kød & Blod

Wildland understands that the threat of violence can often be more menacing than actually depicting it. It’s a film shot through doors and hallways, with any real danger perpetually around the corner. Almost everything takes place from Ida’s perspective, allowing us to process this world just as she sees it. And she doesn’t see a lot, making this world feel more grown-up and scarier than it probably is. 

Normally gangster tales abound in supporting characters, giving one an insight into how the wider system works. Yet, these aren’t particularly finessed gangsters; their economic operation  — consisting solely of lending then collecting money — is decidedly amateur. They do drink in one club a lot, but it is unclear if they own it. After all, the sheer fact that the club takes cards suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of how to effectively launder money. With the father missing, it seems that these overgrown children (one with a child of his own) don’t really know how to be gangsters, putting Ida in far worse peril than if she were a member of the Cosa Nostra. 

eanette Nordahl's Wildland

When a collection goes wrong, Ida’s bonds to her new home are tested, leaving her to make a life-altering decision. The Danish title of Wildland is Kød & Blod, which translates to “Flesh and Blood” in English, which aptly sums up the ethical quandary at the centre of the narrative, while evoking a gory end. And we get both these things, with a horrifying, fast-paced conclusion that feels like too much, too late. 

First-time director Jeanette Nordahl doesn’t direct with the tempo this material needs. Too much of the time it goes into generic arthouse territory — such as long close-ups of Ida’s face with moody music in the background — instead of leaning into actual gangster tropes. The result is a film that is neither genre subversion nor guilty pleasure, but something rather dull in between. For a far better and more brutal exploration of Danish gangster life as seen through the eyes of a naive young woman, Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday will take you there and then some. 

Wildland kicks off the Panorama Section of the 70th Berlin Film Festival, which runs February 20th, 2020 – March 1, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.

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