Ulaa Salim (director)
Eureka - Montage Pictures (studio)
119 min (length)
17 February 2020 (released)
There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark, and no, it’s not another adaptation of Hamlet. Set in the not-too-distant future, this hard-hitting debut by Danish director Ulaa Salim deals with Islamist radicalisation and the rise of the far-Right though the story could just as well be set here and now, or anywhere in Europe.
It’s Denmark in the year 2025 and it’s also one year after a massive bomb attack, carried out by Islamists, shook the foundation of Copenhagen. Ever since that fateful day, tensions between local Danes and Muslim and Arab immigrants have been steadily on the rise. Enter ultra-nationalist political leader Martin Nordahl (Rasmus Bjerg) who stands a high chance to win the next parliamentary election and, should he win, promises some serious ethnical cleansing.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum is 19-year old Zakaria (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed), a Syrian refugee who fled the war-torn battleground after his father was killed. Now he lives in a flat in Denmark together with his doting mother and his little brother. Hanging out with fellow teenagers of Muslim background they are only too aware of the spike in hate-crimes against immigrants, in particular a Neo-Nazi style group who call themselves ‘Sons of Denmark’ are eager to bring their message of hate across. But hate breeds hate and after several severed pigs heads have been place on Zakaria’s turf he and his mates decide to take action by smashing windscreens and so forth. Things are about to get a lot more serious when he meets Hassan (Imad Aboul-Foul), an elderly man who likes recruiting young impressionable guys by preaching his rhetoric of hate although truth be told Hassan does have some valid points as well. Among the men who agree that something needs to be done against the growing violence against Danish ‘citizens’ of Muslim background is Malik aka ‘Ali’ (Zaki Youssef) – a thirty-something idealist, though as it soon turns out he’s actually employed as a double-agent tasked with infiltrating radical groups on either side.
When a bold plan is drawn up to assassinate Nordahl in his own home, it’s Zakaria who is chosen to carry out the deed although it remains utterly unclear why a 19-year old novice should carry out such a risky attack. Sure enough, both Hassan and Ali teach him the basics but fact remains that Zakaria is not only inexperienced but his nerves get the better of him when the moment arrives. Mind you, it killing is never carried out because Ali has long informed the cops who are just waiting for the right moment to storm Nordahl’s house and arrest Zakaria with all the evidence they need. With the teenager now locked up in the slammer and Ali exposed as a ‘rat’ his superior needs to transfer him, his wife and little son to a different town under a new identity, but not before Nordahl thanks Ali/Malik personally for saving his life. Barely having settled into his new surroundings Malik is tasked with his next assignment, which is to infiltrate the Sons of Denmark and by doing so point out the culprits responsible for a recent spade of acid attacks on Muslims. But it’s not before long when Malik comes to realize that Nordahl, who despite his right-wing views has so far distanced himself for the much more extreme Sons of Denmark, is in fact their hero and has been seen on video footage mingling with them during demos. When Malik and his superior visit Nordahl on the eve of the election (Nordahl has predictably won) they ask him to tone down his rhetoric of hate in order to avoid ever more bloodshed. Instead of obliging, Nordhal asks the two men to leave. When Malik finds out that the Sons of Denmark are planning an imminent attack against the Muslim community he cannot guess that some members of the group have already broken into his home and destroy all that he holds dear… thus changing his life forever and prompting him to eliminate Nordahl for the greater good…
A tough, well-acted and thought-provoking thriller that ultimately doesn’t offer any new solutions to the problem! We feel we’ve been there before and have seen it all before. The rise of the far-Right is hardly news (one only has to look at the growing popularity of Germany’s AfD party for example) while characters like Martin Nordahl could well be a hybrid of Farage and the likes of Tommy Robinson. Nonetheless the film is a well-crafted and well-meant debut by director Salim and it will be interesting to see where his cinematic journey takes him next.