Though Nicolo Donato’s impressive debut, “Brotherhood,” inevitably will be called “the gay neo-Nazi movie,” such a reductive description does the film a disservice. While the film does track the unlikely sexual relationship between two members of a violent racist organization, it’s Donato’s assured direction, plus the superb thesping on display, that sets “Brotherhood” above what could have been either fetishistic or far-fetched. The winner of Rome’s top prize, the pic could see strong Euro and bicoastal arthouse play, though some auds may be uncomfortable with the theme and the palpable passion.
Donato (a Dane of Italian descent) doesn’t shy away from discomfort, opening with a troubling scene in which a gay man lured into a cruising area is set upon by a pack of skinheads. Cut to Lars (Thure Lindhardt), a low-ranking army officer facing allegations that he’s made drunken passes at some of his men. Though Lars refutes the charges, he’s denied promotion and quits the military.
At a party, Lars meets Michael, aka Fatty (Nicolas Bro), the leader of the local neo-Nazi group, who speaks of the “unnatural” presence of Muslims in Denmark. Lars rejects the group’s violent ways but not their rhetoric: Michael sees potential in the articulate young man and urges him to get involved. At a beach get-together, Lars is wooed by the comradeship as well as the respect Michael shows him; less pleased is Jimmy (David Dencik), part of the earlier neo-Nazi posse, and Jimmy’s troubled younger brother, Patrick (Morten Holst).
For Lars, who lives with his overbearing mother (Hanne Hedelund) and weak-willed father (Lars Simonsen), the deference is head-turning, and he moves into a guest house Jimmy occupies while renovating. Following a latenight swim, the men’s mutual attraction cannot be contained, and though fearful of what’s happening, they fall in love. When Patrick discovers the relationship, their secret is disastrously revealed.
Some may find the script’s refusal to explain the reasons for the characters’ racism troubling, but Donato is too clever to believe it stems from some easily divined formula. Lars’ affinity for the neo-Nazis stems from the way they bolster his bruised ego and reinforce his masculinity: Group leader Ebbe (Claus Flygare) proudly declares, “We’ve got ourselves a real man.” One plot flaw is the use of the old domineering mother/milquetoast father scenario, but otherwise, Donato and co-scripter Rasmus Birch get the psychology right.
The helmer also makes the most of spatial positioning, emphasizing separations as well as tight fraternal camaraderie. The passion between Lars and Jimmy is powerful, the sense of liberation they feel in each other’s arms a heady mix of desire and support. Credit must go to the actors, all perfectly cast: Lindhardt nails the deep insecurity masking Lars’ paper-thin confidence, while Dencik is a master at conveying worlds of confusion with just his eyes. As always, Bro delivers an excellent performance, capturing Michael’s creepy insidiousness, and Holst leaves a deep impression in the smaller role of the unstable Patrick.
Excellent night-time shooting goes hand-in-hand with the camera’s slight movements, subtly emphasizing a sense of unease. Music is used with unexpected discretion, such as when the presumably ear-splitting noise of a neo-Nazi rave is covered by music (also used in the first sex scene) that more accurately reflects the characters than their environment.