Copenhageners sometimes call their city the worlds biggest small town. In Rasmus Heisterberg’s In the Blood, main characters Simon and Emilie seems to agree. On a summer night they drink, talk, dream, and complain about their city, where everyone lives the same, does the same, know the same people. So perhaps the main characters of the film would be dismayed if I told them that the reason the film they’re in is so lovely is because it’s so wonderfully recognisable. Everyone who has been young knows the dilemmas and the people, and everyone who has been young in Copenhagen will know exactly the places, the bars, the nights out. And while there are several ways a film can be recognizable, with In the Blood it’s 75% because it’s real and true, and only 25% because of clichés. Which is a really good split!
Let’s begin with the realness. In the Blood is shot 100% on location, mostly in Copenhagen but also a bit in Berlin and in a jungle (it’s supposed to be Bolivia, but seems to have been shot in Thailand, as it’s used to illustrate Simon’s dreams of escape the lack of specificity doesn’t hurt in this circumstance). Call me provincial, but I love to see great shots of my own city. And In the Blood gets a specific geography so right. Even without specifying exactly where Simon and his three friends Knud, Søren and Esben live together in a big old apartment, the distribution of their haunts and hangouts makes it easy to take a guess (I’m saying the street that’s named Jægersborgsgade, if anyone wants to go hipster sightseeing after seeing the film). Simon studies to become a doctor, and images of him and Knud at the roof of the university is immediately recognizable as the Panum institute. When they go swimming they go to Amager Beach Park, when Simon is dispelled from the city for a short while, the differentness of the suburb where he seeks out his parents shows just how out of his element he is. In the Blood is the best portrait of Copenhagen to come from Denmark in a long time. And oh, the pictures are shot on celluloid, perfectly capturing every change in the summer light over a long hot summer vacation, and the soundtrack is a great symphony of city noise, occasional party music and animal sounds from the jungle that Simon longs for. As a purely aesthetic experience, In the Blood is among the best Denmark has had to offer this year.
But okay, the clichés. In the Blood tells a relatable tale of a couple of youngsters on their way to adulthood. Esben’s girlfriend wants to move in with him and be just the two of them. Knud has to learn how to handle both his domineering friend – Simon – and his on-and-off girlfriend Mia. Emilie has to handle her first serious breakup, after being left by her boyfriend since she was seventeen. And then there’s Simon, the main character, who just wants youth to go on forever, gets through his education without exerting himself, and stumbles into bed with beautiful girls without binding himself to anyone, and in general isn’t ready to take responsibility for his own life. And perhaps there’s something darker inside of him, In his Blood if you catch my drift. One small problem with the film is that Simon might have the most conventional story of them all. In so many youth pictures, the main character will be the guy who has the most sex and does the darkest deeds. It’s more dramatic that way. But a supporting character like Knud is actually more complex and less well known character. In the Blood is also part of a new wave of youth oriented Danish films, and especially looks a lot like last years winner at CPH:PIX The Elite by Thomas Daneskov, another film about a talented young man who starts giving in to his demons a bit too much. Both films even include the same actresses playing love interests, Victoria Carmen Sonne and Lea Gregersen. This is where the film becomes recognizable because you’ve seen it before on the screen, not in your life. In the Blood is a bigger film than the extreme low budget The Elite, and manages to actually create a picture of Copenhagen, which makes a big difference.
Though perhaps I just like In the Blood because it reminds me of myself. At Simon’s age, I too lived with my best friends and applied for studying abroad. Perhaps I’d rather have Knud as the main character because he is even more like myself? On the other hand, I’ll have to admit I don’t actually know if the female characters are so well developed as the male characters seem to me. This is a problem with judging any film, especially one that strives for realism and realness. So perhaps let’s return to the technical aspects, for real or not, the film is an impressive technical achievement. Director and scriptwriter Rasmus Heisterberg is most known from having written the scripts for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and A Royal Affair, but this is his debut as a director. Perhaps it’s then a surprise how much the film lives off of it’s aesthetics, while the plotting is loose, with the passing months as the structuring element. The acting is fine throughout, though it’s noticeable that Kristoffer Bech in the main role as Simon isn’t an experienced actor but a rock musician. Standouts are Victoria Carmen Sonne who is both sweet and funny as Emilie and especially Elliott Crosset Hove as Knud, who is awkward and put-upon one moment, but then shows real strength and determination the next. There are two men inside of him, struggling to define the rest of his life.
In the Blood is simply a good film, which feels entirely young and new and exciting. Not that many stars, not that much drama in the plot, perhaps not an easy sell. But a lot of names, in front of and behind the camera, whom we’ll hopefully hear a lot more from. And a willingness to create something honest, capture real summer light, show Copenhagen as it is. Which isn’t easy to do, as bureaucracy makes shooting on the streets of Copenhagen more difficult than in many other countries. Full disclosure, I too received a flyer from the film production apologising from the trouble they were causing in my neighborhood, and that was for what is perhaps thirty seconds of film. Even just logistically, In the Blood is an achievement. And it’s just nice looking at the Danish summer light for a couple of hours.