Neglected by an abusive, alcoholic mother, two young brothers grow into emotionally limited, damaged adults in the almost unrelentingly grim Danish drama “Submarino,” from helmer Thomas Vinterberg (“The Celebration,” “Dear Wendy”). Non-judgmental, minutely observed portrait of despair and degradation reps a tough sell even on home turf, where local auds may be curious to see what one of Dogma 95’s founding fathers makes of an unflinching contempo novel.
After a prologue establishes the harsh environment in which the brothers came of age in northwest Copenhagen and the guilty secret they share, tale’s first hour centers on the grown-up Nick (a strong Jacob Cedergren, buffed into a weight-lifter’s build and covered with tattoos), an angry, bitter alcoholic recently released from prison.
Tight closeups and claustrophobic framing stress his isolated life in a mixed-population shelter where he has occasional joyless sex with lonely, good-hearted neighbor Sofie (Patricia Schumann, a Kate Winslet lookalike), a boozer who lost custody of her kids.
Unconsciously trying to relive the most important relationship of his youth, Nick reserves what little spark of compassion he can summon for Ivan (Morten Rose, convincing), the overweight, mentally unbalanced younger brother of his former girlfriend.
Nick’s actual kid brother (Peter Plaugborg, pic’s weak thesping link) makes an appearance about 50 minutes in and the narrative changes course to follow him. A junkie who can’t balance caring for his young son (Gustav Fischer Kjaerulff, solemnly expressive) with getting his next fix, he is never referred to by name, only as Martin’s father or Nick’s brother,
As the main characters remain stuck in their private hells, there’s little narrative tension beyond the question of when the next terrible thing will happen. This may be one of the rare films made where viewers actually root for social services to remove a child from a loving parent.
When Vinterberg moves from Nick’s life to that of his brother, the two segments don’t synch chronologically — yet another way of indicating the missed connections between the two as adults. However, a short final act ultimately brings the brothers together for a moment of grace that may pave the way for young Martin to have a better life.
The wintry setting and the stripped-down, blue-toned visuals (by first-time d.p. Charlotte Bruus Christensen) match the bleakness of the story. Pic feels overlong, with scenes held a few beats too long. Other tech credits are fine.