You will be redirected back to your article in seconds



Janus ... Anders Wodskou Berthelsen Jakob ... Michael Muller Lasse ... Ulrich Thomsen Eva ... Ibjen Hjejle Mother ... Birthe Neumann Kaj ... Baard Owe Mrs. Eriksen ... Edith Thrane Irene ... Helle Charlotte Dolleris Minna ... Susanne Birkemose


A precocious new talent is revealed in the gritty, rather too self-consciously “cool” debut film of Niels Arden Oplev. “Portland” is violent, nihilistic and often repellent, and yet its bold visuals and unexpected elements of humor andromance make it riveting viewing. Young audiences may respond, but their parents probably won’t be so impressed, creating a tough sell on the arthouse circuit in many territories.

Oplev seems under the influence of Lars Von Trier, whose Zentropa Entertainments outfit produced. Pic is distinguished by a rich visual texture in which exteriors are apparently filmed on high-contrast, grainy black-and-white film stock, which has then been tinted a livid orange. Interior scenes are presented in normal full color, although whenever a view can be seen through a window, this, too, gets the grainy orange effect.

Perhaps influenced by Chris Marker’s seminal short film “La Jetee,” which just once broke its own style of using only still photographs, there’s one fleeting moment here, too, when an exterior scene is shown in full color — a moment when three principal characters are, briefly, happy.

The film’s protagonists are a bunch of antisocial thugs who deal in drugs. Janus comes out of prison and is met by his younger brother, Jakob, a refugee from a reform school; Janus immediately steals a car and heads for the Cafe Teuton where gang leader Lasse assigns him work and offers a place to stay — in the apartment occupied by Lasse’s sister, Eva.

This “work” involves intimidating the elderly and sick inhabitants of housing projects to order subscription drugs through the medical health service; these are then handed on to couriers from Lasse’s gang and sold on the streets. Janus and Jakob become couriers.

There’s not much more to the plot. Janus and Eva becomes lovers, but when she tells him she loves him, he viciously beats her up; this triggers a response from Lasse, whose goons give Janus an equally vicious beating. With the record straight again, Janus and Eva resume their relationship and eventually, in a bizarre sequence typical of Oplev’s humorous approach, celebrate a white wedding with all the trimmings, though both are noticeably scarred and bruised.

Young Jakob, meanwhile, after dallying with a couple of lively girls named Irene and Minna, who give him a lift in their car and who are dressed in cowgirl gear, becomes alienated from his brother and, after being sensitive and nervous for most of the film, starts acting tough.

As a director, Oplev shows he has talent: His mixture of moods works well, he gets strong performances from most cast members, and he pushes the narrative along at an urgent pace. His sense of humor is a major asset, not only in scenes like the one with Jakob and the cowgirls, but also in details — the pet lizard owned by one thug, for example, and some very flip dialogue.

But as a writer, he’s less successful; it’s surely not enough these days for Janus to blame his lifestyle on a lack of mother’s love (which he does) or to have characters utter corny lines like “It’s us against the world.” There’s also far too much unmotivated violence (Janus assaulting a shopping mall security guard is a totally unnecessary sequence) and a few cheap and obvious jokes at the expense of authority figures.

Music by Sons of Cain gives the film a soundtrack to boost marketing opportunities, and, on a technical level, everything about “Portland” is first-class. Best performance comes from Anders Wodskou Berthelsen as the pill-popping Janus.

The title remains unexplained; perhaps it’s a reference to the home town of Gus Van Sant, but it’s also a Danish brand name for cement.



Production: A Nordisk Film release of a Zentropa Entertainments production, in association with DR TV, Danish Film Institute. (International sales: Nordisk Film.) Produced by Peter Aalbaek Jensen. Co-producer, Ib Tardini. Directed, written by Niels Arden Oplev.

Crew: Camera (color), Henrik Jongdahl; editor, Henrik Fleischer; music, Sons of Cain, Morten Olsen; production design, Lars Kofoed-Hansen; costumes, Ingrid Soe; sound, Kristian Eidnes Andersen, Torsten Bolvig Hansen; assistant director, Morten Schmidt. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 23, 1996. Running time:? 103 MIN.

With: Janus ... Anders Wodskou Berthelsen Jakob ... Michael Muller Lasse ... Ulrich Thomsen Eva ... Ibjen Hjejle Mother ... Birthe Neumann Kaj ... Baard Owe Mrs. Eriksen ... Edith Thrane Irene ... Helle Charlotte Dolleris Minna ... Susanne Birkemose

More Film

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • Green Book spiderman into the spider

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: Early Reviews

    'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: 'The MCU Feels More Complete'

    “Captain Marvel” is soaring following advanced press screenings on Tuesday. Reactions from early showings have hit Twitter, and audiences are keen on Marvel’s first female-led standalone movie. Critics are praising Brie Larson’s performance as Carol Danvers, the nostalgic ’90s setting, and the cosmic sci-fi elements. Goose, Danvers’ cat, is also getting a lot of attention from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content