It is with grace, care and patience that Danish director Nicolo Donato brings _Brotherhood (Broderskab) _to life. A love story about homosexual neo-nazis, the plot is a fuse that others may not see the point in lighting. It may sound too high concept to work, but Donato has brought a surprisingly affecting story to life by developing rich emotional palettes for the film’s main players, avoiding moral proselytization.
Like many tales of unrequited love, this one gets off to a clunky start. At the outset we meet Lars (Thure Lindhardt), a son of privilege on course for a successful military career, is left unemployed after his underlings accuse him of making advances at them. In an only moderately believable turn of events, he happens upon a local chapter of white supremacists while drinking his worries away at a friend’s house. Initially disgusted by their beliefs, he is drawn to them, or rather pulled in for his eloquence and obvious curiosity. Kicked out of his house after beating a Muslim, Lars is forced to move into the summer home of the movement’s leader. There, he and Jimmy (David Dencik), a senior member of the organization, must fix the place up in its owners absence between party meetings, mosh pits and beachside burnings. They drink organic beer and red wine, work at a snail’s pace and go for dips in the lake when the mood strikes them. It is seemingly the plush life for these bigots.
In this exclusive club, there are the lowly followers, the idiots we think of when we think of unrepentant racists, the boys who perhaps could not find another strata of society that would take them on. Then there are the people like Lars and Jimmy, the more intellectual neo-Nazis who choose to be there. In Donato’s film, all of these “thinking” Nazis are portrayed as, how should I put this, dandy. There is something decidedly homoerotic about a group of men who get together to celebrate physical dominance, a note Donato hits on part- way through the film at a hate-rock concert. In slow motion, the men sweat, slap and surf on each other. It is around this point, in a mosh Lars would rather sit out, that our main characters begin to fall for each other.
It is implied, strongly, that Jimmy has a history of lovers, perhaps within the enclave. Fatso, the frightening recruiter played with wonderful restraint by Nicolas Bro, spends much of his screen time leering at Jimmy, trying to ensure he has not started up a relationship with Lars. Another interpretation is that Fatso and Jimmy were perhaps involved at some other point. It’s unclear because we only have their body language to go on. Try as he might, Jimmy cannot resist Lars when no one is around. Lars would rather run away, but the organization is the only family Jimmy has ever known and he refuses. He would rather keep it a secret than suffer the consequences, which are as bloody as you might imagine.
Thure Lindhardt and David Dencik offer up moving performances as our forbidden lovers. We see Lars’s brief transformation from youthful go-getter to white supremacists, but Jimmyhas obviously been torn about his decision to be amongst Nazis since he made it. Lars was so embarrassed, so unable to speak of the homosexuality that lead to his dismissal, that he would rather make something of himself among bigots. Jimmy must have gone through the same thing, only much harder, and at a much younger age than Lars. But could a lifestyle that denies them who they are actually be worth it?
The real trick of Donato’s film is to make us even think in this way about these despicable characters. A man who can perpetrate such acts of violence, as they all do, is no man worth saving, no man deserving of happiness. They shouldn’t even be worth our thoughts, let alone our compassion. Even for its clunkiness, moving us a bit too quickly through the first act, Brotherhood works as a love story and unexpected take on a world you may be unwilling to enter. In the real world, I won’t find any place in my heart for bigots and their blind followers. However, within the confines of this film, I may take a second look at these unlikely companions.
Brotherhood opens in New York on August 6th and Los Angeles on August 20th.