Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

TWIST AND SHOUT (Tro, hab og kaerlighed ) (Denmark, 1984) ***

Directed by Bille August. Written by August and Bjarne Reuter. Cinematography, Jan Weincke. Sound, Niels Bokkenheuser. Lighting, Soren Sorensen. Production design, Soren Krag Sorensen. Editing, Janus Billeskov Jansen. Music, Bo Holten. Cast: Adam Tonsberg, Lars Simonsen, Camilla Soeberg, Ulrikke Juul Bondo, Thomas Nielsen, Lone Lindroff, Arne Hansen, Aase Hansen, et al. A Danish film produced by Per Holst Filmproduktion and Palle Fogtdal, in collaboration with the Danish Film Institute, the Children's Film Council and Danmarks Radio. Released by Miramax. In Danish with subtitles. No rating.

The third feature by Bille August (b. 1948) is a very good work on young people in suburban 1964 Denmark. I'm resisting labeling their particular stages of growth as "coming-of-age," since the male protagonists are beyond that stage, and the female leads have already achieved their own relative maturity.

Twist And Shout starts out at the end of 1963 but is mostly set in 1964. At first it makes you think that it will be a straight teen -age romance with , as background, the early stages of Denmark 's Beatlemania. The kids literally twist and shout to the Liverpudlians' pieces, form their own groups, even adopt Beatles garb. Middle-class adolescents Bjorn (Tonsberg) and Erik (Simonsen) are best friends. Both are perfectly nice, normal boys. Bjorn is an extremely good-looking, vivacious extrovert who attracts girls. Erik is a homely, shy introvert, for good reason. In Gothic- novel fashion, he has a dark secret -- a deranged mother who for years has been kept under wraps, lock and key at home following the strict orders from Erik's dour, overbearing father, who also browbeats his son into a joyless life.

Blonde, wealthy Kirsten thinks that there is an understanding between her and Bjorn. So does Eric, who though smitten with Kirsten is too decent and timid to do anything about it. When Bjorn falls in love with a new girl, Anna (Soeberg), a peeved Kirsten pretends a momentary interest in Eric, only to penetrate his secret. Later she heaps derision on him at a party she's giving, throws out Bjorn and Anna.

For those two, head over heels in love, it is a happy time, until Anna has a horrid backroom abortion, paid for in part by money that Bjorn, swallowing his pride, borrowed from Kirsten. The mental and physical pain jolts Anna to break with Bjorn. Though still very much in love, Bjorn, for whom Anna had been an ideal and a leader, accepts his fate dumbly, more like a boy than like a man. Kirsten gets him back on the rebound, and with sales pitches from her family, a listless, unconvinced Bjorn becomes engaged to her. . .

The movie has a two-part structure. Its first half deals primarily with Bjorn and Anna. It is sunny, even though Erik's family problems lurk behind it. What the lovers do is gay, amusing, and not always like the first-love cliches of their American counterparts. They sit in adult cafes and drink tea; Anna tries to initiate rocker Bjorn into the beauty of the music of Bach, an unknown name that the boy can't even pronounce correctly. When Anna goes on a short trip, Bjorn worries and has visions of his girl doing a lascivious strip-tease. With the abortion though, the tone becomes somber, and along with Bjorn's confusion, Erik's own comes more and more to the forefront. His life as a dog culminates with the boy discovering , in morally ambiguous conditions, the real nature of his father, and rebelling.

The choice of actors and their performances are excellent. (Lars Simonsen (Erik) was voted Best Actor at the Moscow Film Festival. ) They also help to fill gaps in the story and to camouflage improbabilities. Handsome Bjorn's looks are like a cross between the angelic Tadzio in Death In Venice and Jacques Perrin in Girl With A Suitcase --if your memory goes that far back. Anna is most appealing in behavior and physique. The actress playing her is only 20, but Bjorn looks so much younger that Anna would be more convincingly paired off with a more mature man. Kirsten looks like a young, prim and calculating Eva Marie Saint. She is so different from Bjorn that you may wonder what hold she has on him. The explanation, I believe, is that the actors playing Bjorn and Kirsten were also in Bille August's preceding movie. Zappa, set in 1961, was indeed a coming-of-age film, in which Kirsten was already Bjorn's girlfriend, with plans for their future.

Both films were co-authored by Bjarne Reuter, a specialist in novels about adolescents. He must be the S. E. Hinton of Denmark. The scriptwriters may be assuming in Twist And Shout some familiarity with the earlier movie, but even beyond this, they are a bit murky about what's going on. The explanations for the father's incarceration of his wife, his refusal to see a doctor or to place her in an institution, are feeble. (There are perhaps vague intimations of films like Gaslight, where a husband tries to drive his wife insane. ) The father explaining to his son that mother has suffered from post-partum depression which became agoraphobia (fear of crowds) after she gave birth to the boy, is an improbable "revelation," to say the least. The lady must be close to 50, the boy is not retarded, yet he's lived all his life dumbly accepting matters and with no knowledge of the facts? There are other murky areas, such as Anna's family background and her sexual past: she initiates sex with Bjorn in a way that hints at previous experience, but she is dumbfounded when she finds out she is pregnant.

What papers over many of the film's cracks, in addition to the appeal of its young actors, is its technical skill and above all, the fact that this is a guilt-edged movie. In Zappa, the responsibility for the kids' troubles was laid squarely at their parents' doorstep. In the new film too, with additional types of guilt. Erik's father is guilty of harshness and puritanical hypocrisy. He makes his son feel guilty for practically everything, especially his being embarrassed by a mother whom nonetheless, he cares for lovingly when father isn't looking. Bjorn feels guilty vis-a-vis Anna, which explains in part his acceptance of her decision to break. Anna's mother, to whom the girl appeals for help, is monstrously guilty of indifference. The guilt may extend to Anna's unseen, absentee (and illegitimate?) father. Kirsten's parents are guilty of having spoiled their daughter. And so on. . .

Gaps and incongruities notwithstanding, this is a fine film. Most of it makes suspension of disbelief fairly easy, so that you can concentrate on the more valid parts of the joys and sorrows of adolescence. It is helped too by a good soundtrack, both of pleasant period pop and of classical music that you would never find in an American teen-age movie. A comparison with some parts of the current Dirty Dancing, set in 1963, with its own youth, rock-and-roll, ballroom dancing, abortion, and parents-children relations, can tell you much about differences and similarities between Danish and American attitudes and moviemaking.

Written February 1988

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel