Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Wild Men

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

You would be forgiven, upon starting Wild Men, for thinking that it would be a harrowing tale of survival in pre-modern Norway. We find our fur-bedecked protagonist, Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), crying on the top of a picturesque mountain before clamping down on his tears, gathering his bow and arrow, and tromping off into the woods. The illusion begins to slip away, however, when Martin’s attempt at goat hunting ends in failure, forcing him to bludgeon a frog to death for dinner, and then disappears completely upon Martin’s entering a very modern gas station to procure non-frog food as his desperation and hunger grow.

As it transpires, Martin is just your typical guy, but one who has decided to dress in furs, carry a bow and arrow, and (attempt to) hunt for his own food. This noble calling, however, means that he lacks a credit card, and when the gas station owner confronts Martin about this, it escalates into a kerfuffle that results in Martin fleeing the store, but not before giving a cheery “Take care” to the hapless attendant. Policeman Øyvind (Bjørn Sundquist) sets off after him, though most of his attention is occupied with trying to catch drug runner Musa (Zaki Youssef). Through a twist of fate, Martin crosses paths with Musa, and the three men become entangled with each other as they traverse the mountains of Norway.

They all, in their own way, come to grapple with their masculinity as they trek through the snow: Martin has run away from his wife and daughters in an ill-advised attempt to reclaim his manhood, trading in the typical sports car midlife crisis for roughing it in the woods, his naïve attempts at self-sufficiency only reflecting how unmoored and lost he feels; Musa, barred from seeing his two-year-old child due to his criminal background, longs for the type of family life that Martin has so thoughtlessly discarded; Øyvind, now old, laments the days he acted like Martin and pushed away his late wife, and now reaches out a hand at night to her side of the bed as if he can somehow pull her back from death. It’s a shame that, while all these men are affected by their family (especially the women) in their life—they long for it, they run from it, all of the above at once—the few female characters have very little interiority. 

Still, Wild Men manages to breathe fresh life into an age-old idea, bringing a sensitivity to Martin’s blustering and buffoonish actions; besides, even if it’s tiresome to think about another story about a middle-aged man fleeing his responsibilities, Martin’s decision to do so by feebly attempting to turn into a real Viking man is certainly fresh. Director Thomas Daneskov, who co-wrote along with Morten Pape, smartly surrounds Martin with other men who see Martin’s actions for what they are. “My god… You’re so unbelievably simple. It’s marvelous,” Øyvind tells Martin. 

Even as Martin does things like chuck his possessions in a fast-flowing river to prove the tarp they are in is waterproof, Daneskov still approaches him and all the other characters with heart: all these men are lost and lonely in some way, and Bjerg, Youssef, and Sundquist all perform marvelously. “We’re all just playing dress up,” Øyvind says sadly towards the end. For a purported comedy, it can pack a wallop, but even so, there’s an irresistible current of charm and goodness running underneath the surface, making Wild Men something more than its premise.

Wild Men Trailer

Wild Men was screened as part of the 2021 edition of Fantasia Film Festival which runs until August 25.

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