Sons Of Denmark (Danmarks sønner)
Denmark (2019) Dir. Ulaa Salim
Radicalisation works both ways, but most people seem unaware of this, always assuming with some validity thanks to media influence – that it refers to those drawn towards Islam by extremists. In some cases, this is in response to the rise of racism fuelling their hatred, something also bred and cultivated through the radicalisation of white people.
Denmark 2025, one year after a bomb in Copenhagen kills 23 people, and rising tensions between angry Danish nationalists and the immigrants blamed for the attack has seen an increase in violent retaliations by racist group Sons Of Denmark. Despite not openly endorsing the Sons or condoning them, right wing anti-immigration National Movement party are looking at a landslide victory the next election.
Their outspoken leader Martin Nordahl (Rasmus Bjerg) has become a target for an angry Islamic group planning to assassinate him. Local elder Hassan (Imad Abul-Foul) recruits angry 19 year-old Iraq-born Zakaria (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed) for the job, pairing him up with his right hand man Ali (Zaki Youssef). The fallout of the mission has far-reaching consequences for everyone.
Sons Of Denmark is one of those films that are a bane for reviewers like me who don’t like to reveal spoilers because it features an almighty twist at the halfway mark that dictates a whole new discussion about the plot from the first half. The central story remains true the summary above but is taken in a whole direction and perspective in getting its points across.
For a debut film, it is incredibly bold, but sadly necessary in its topicality in addressing an issue which is tearing countries about on a global, more now than it ever has. Ulaa Salim is a Danish filmmaker to Iraqi-émigré parents which may have some people suggesting there is a lop-sided viewpoint presented here but Salim isn’t taking sides, he is merely presenting the facts with added insight from someone caught in the middle.
It is this centrist position that informs much of the narrative in the second half of the film post-plot twist, laced with a bitter irony of someone who has no allegiances but to himself and his family. We might view this at being in the wrong place at the wrong time or purely a victim of circumstance, the upshot is that once the credits start to roll, all we have seen for two hours are nothing but victims.
Politically, Salim can’t afford to take sides in his script – and doesn’t – because neither side is right or wrong in the argument; what he does do is acknowledge how people will believe whatever they want to believe, depending on who is shouting the loudest and the circumstances that have led them to shout. Whilst racism is not new, this is very much a zeitgeist film in relation to the rise in anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiment in our society today.
By opening the film with a bomb blast which was not officially accredited to any terrorist group Islamic or otherwise, we are thrown into a scenario we see on the news all too often, which gives rise to the knee jerk reaction that it must have been foreigners behind the attack. Nordahl is interviewed on the first anniversary of the attack and makes no bones about the fact he will cease immigration and send non-Danes home if his party wins the election.
A lot of box ticking to inflame the more rational thinkers but this does have a means to its end. On the flip side, the immigrants themselves are gearing up to fight back against the discriminate attacks and intimidation from the racists, fed up with being scapegoats. Salim offers an insight into the feelings of the afraid, angry, and persecuted minorities, but paints their “fight fire with fire” attitude as being just as dangerous as the campaign against them.
Zakaria is a victim of this – living with his mother and younger brother and wants to step up and do by right by them and his late father, but is held back by a society that hates him. With Hassan in his ear, Zakaria is the perfect soldier for the cause, being young, impressionable, proud, and passionate. Now the audience fears for how far both sides are willing to go, and how many more innocent people are going to suffer because of two wrongs believing they are right have turned the streets into a warzone.
Salim has crafted the first half of the film to engender both support and terror depending on which side of the fence one sits, and it is compulsive yet unsettling viewing for many reasons. It’s not just that it is so close to home with the current political climate but also a precursor for the rest of the film where the worst is yet to come, though we aren’t prepared or the aforementioned twist.
There is no notable pulling of punches in the rhetoric used by Nordahl and the Sons as we’ve heard worse from the likes of Nigel Farage, yet Nordahl cannot be seen as a parody but a reflection of such pig ignorance and inflammatory hatred. Credit to Rasmus Bjerg for being so dislikeable and smug with great effect, just one of many strong turns from the committed cast.
Don’t let the lush, artistic cinematography fool you, the grittiness and discomfort of the action onscreen hits just as hard as if this was a minimalist neo realism presentation. In fact, being such a well shot film with high production values makes the gnarly content that more shocking, like unwrapping a lovingly packaged present only to find a severed head inside.
One of the most vital and on point films on current issues, Sons Of Denmark is not about didacticism but about worse case scenarios, a warning to us all of the consequences and tragedy ignorance and hatred can bring if it is allowed to fester unabated. As chilling and nightmare inducing as any horror film.