The Eighteenth

Danish newcomer Anders Ronnow-Klarlund weighs in with a head-turning debut in "The Eighteenth," a moody drama that follows several characters whose lives intersect and are radically changed on May 18, 1993, the day Denmark went to the polls to vote on joining the European Union. While the writer-director's story skills at times fall a notch short of his impressive technical command, this Scandinavian "Short Cuts" marks him as one to watch, and should springboard from fest dates to limited theatrical sales. Coming on the heels of his celebrated countryman Lars von Trier, 26-year-old Ronnow-Klarlund perhaps risks unfair comparison, especially due to the oppressive hospital setting of one track of the story here, which recalls that of von Trier's 1994 TV series "The Kingdom." Some kinship also can be seen in his aggressive bag of visual tricks, with images ranging from fiery, heightened colors, to bled-out B&W to cold blue tones, at times shot through with static interference. But similarities aside, this boldly confident new director appears very much to be developing his own distinctive style.

With:
Ulla ... Sanne Grauland Jens ... Rasmus Botoft Michael ... Niels Anders Thorn Sarah ... Rebecca Sorensen Pernille ... Lotte Bergstrom Carsten ... Soren Christensen Ebbe ... Finn Nielsen Henriette ... Ulla Hakansson

By far the most compelling part of the story concerns Jens (Rasmus Botoft), an inmate with violent tendencies who is under psychiatric observation in a hospital security ward. Escaping after creating a diversion, he is forced to team with a seemingly mute fellow patient (Lotte Bergstrom), who cruises around on roller skates to the strains of a Strauss waltz on her headset. The growing bond between these unlikely companions is very effectively described.

Parallel to this, singer Ulla (Sanne Grauland) is coping with her own guilt and the charges of her ex-husband (Soren Christensen) about being a lousy mother, driven only by her career. Her day involves trying to fit in a radio interview and prepare for a TV appearance and still make time for her daughter Sarah (Rebecca Sorensen) on her birthday.

The third and least interesting strand centers on slick salesman Michael (Niels Anders Thorn), who has a crucial Italian deal to close and a hungry colleague ready to steal his thunder. Hoping to get the upper hand, he recruits two call girls to pose as friends and make the Italians more agreeable.

Initially, the characters’ paths cross in seemingly inconsequential ways: Jens listens to Ulla on his car radio; Ulla dials a wrong number and gets a rude response from Michael; emerging from the polling booths, Ulla and Michael collide, causing an exchange of ballots. But later, the encounters carry more weight: Sarah runs out onto the road and is struck by Jens’ car; rushing to the hospital, Ulla stops to pick up Jens, who has been injured and is fleeing from cops among a crowd of post-election revelers.

The election serves to thread together the various narrative components, from overheard news updates and glimpses of protest meetings to more inventive ways such as Jens stealing a campaigner’s car from under his nose. While it’s skillfully orchestrated, the overlapping of the three main strands could perhaps have been taken further, and Ronnow-Klarlund does not entirely reconcile the contrasting tones between the cynical business-world scenario, the cold alienation of the escapee story and the more sentimental dysfunctional family tragedy.

Despite this, there are more than enough audacious ideas and originality on show here to keep the ambitious film on track. Razor-sharp editing, camera and sound contribute significantly to this smartly packaged production.

The Eighteenth

Danish

Production: A Klondike Film production. (International sales: Klondike, Copenhagen.) Produced by Thomas Mai. Directed, written by Anders Ronnow-Klarlund.

Crew: Camera (color, B&W), Eigil Bryld; editor, Steen Schapiro; music, Martin Ronnow-Klarlund, Sanne Grauland; art direction, Kristian Milsted; sound (Dolby SR), Sven Pors. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival, Feb. 6, 1997. (Also in Berlin Film Festival market.) Running time: 96 MIN.

With: Ulla ... Sanne Grauland Jens ... Rasmus Botoft Michael ... Niels Anders Thorn Sarah ... Rebecca Sorensen Pernille ... Lotte Bergstrom Carsten ... Soren Christensen Ebbe ... Finn Nielsen Henriette ... Ulla Hakansson

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