The Man (2017)
Can art have moral integrity if it is created by a narcissistic hypocrite? This is one of the questions teased out in the multi-layered film The Man (2017) shown at the Sydney-Scandinavian Film Festival. It’s a feisty essay on ageing, art, and the timeless dynamic of father-son rivalry, aa set in the upmarket bohemian art world of Copenhagen.
Surrounded by adoring acolytes in his warehouse gallery, Simon (Soren Malling) is a self-indulgent artist who flaunts his success while hiding his megalomania behind a façade of eccentricity. He wears designer pyjamas both at work and at public functions as a badge of non-conformity but is at heart an insecure middle-aged man who needs young flesh around him to feel relevant. His open-marriage trysts take their toll on his too-tolerant wife Darling (Ane Dahl Torp) whose real name is not used in Simon’s self-centred world. Without warning, his abandoned son Casper (Jakob Oftebro) arrives for a stay to get to know the man who is his father. The cool reception immediately turns hostile when the handsome Casper tells Simon that he is a famous street artist: “graffiti is not art” screams Simon. When his wife and lover show interest in Casper, Simon’s emotional world begins to fray. Just as father and son seem to be getting to know each other, Casper opens his own exhibition at a competing gallery that turns out to be a critical expose of a famous artist.
Casper had painted a giant mural of a shrouded head on a wall in front of Simon’s gallery and this is the metaphor that frames the story. Father and son confrontation has been done many times but rarely with such a dense and explosive mixture of vanities, foibles and egos. The narrative is a matrix of cross-currents: Casper is charming, patient with his father, and cool with his self-identity. Simon is conceited, has fickle notions of fatherhood, and his masculinity balances feebly on his identity as an artist. Both Malling and Oftebro are excellent in pushing the emotional boundaries of their roles.
One of the reasons this tense Nordic psycho-drama feels refreshing is that it is not a Hollywood production. Instead of a simplistic high-concept premise that is seen in too many films today, The Man depicts human weakness, unpredictability, and art world pretensions with full-frontal realism. The story twists and turns until the sweet-faced prodigal son reveals his own version of malice in an ambivalent finale that will have many viewers wondering how the story ended.
Director: Charlotte Sieling
Stars: Soren Malling, Jakob Oftebro, Ane Dahl Torp
A Denmark & Norway production