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MOSCOW 2017

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Darkland: A gripping, violent revenge story

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- Fenar Ahmad’s thriller, which screened at the Moscow International Film Festival, shows two very different sides of Danish society

Darkland: A gripping, violent revenge story

Shown in the official competition at the Moscow International Film Festival (22-29 June), Danish director Fenar Ahmad’s compelling thriller Darkland [+see also:
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 may have been ignored at the awards gala, but it is in with a good chance of winning something that, for many directors and producers, is even more appealing than trophies: the audience’s attention. A violent and intense revenge story, the thriller shows how a successful surgeon becomes a vigilante in order to avenge his brother’s death.

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Zaid (a very convincing and physical Dar Salim) is a heart surgeon who seems to have it all: respect, love and money. Ahmad spends time showing the audience the protagonist’s lifesaving skills in the emergency room, his happy life together with his pregnant girlfriend Stine (Stine Fischer Christensen) and his luxurious flat in the spectacular Gemini Residence in Copenhagen, but the viewer knows from the very first sequence, in which a Middle Eastern thug tries to rob a bank, that Zaid’s seemingly perfect world will be perverted by menacing external forces: when his younger brother is killed after the failed bank robbery, Zaid will be drawn into a world of violence and revenge. 

The screenplay, written by Ahmad together with Adam August, efficiently seeds a question in the audience’s mind: where will Zaid stop in his quest for revenge? And how much is he willing to sacrifice during his violent escapades in the dark lands of crime and murder? We can tell from the very beginning that Zaid’s mind is addled by his brother’s death and that only one thing will allow him to see clearly again: the death of the unpredictable, vicious, murderous crime lord Semion (an unhinged Ali Sivandi). The protagonist and the antagonist make one of the most compelling pairs of fighting characters in a European thriller, leaving a trail of bloody (and sometimes burning) corpses behind them.

Although Ahmad’s eye is clearly drawn towards the spectacular action and fight sequences, more relevant and thought-provoking subplots permeate the story. The son of Iraqi immigrants who came to Denmark three decades ago, Zaid is the perfect example of efficient integration and proof that immigrants can climb to the highest levels of success and appreciation in Danish society. He is, nevertheless, surrounded by less successful stories, of which his brother Yasin (Anis Alobaidi) is an obvious example. Ahmad stops often to show the contrasting aspects in Zaid’s life, which traces out a map where the ghettoisation of immigrants is obvious: Zaid may happily live in one of Copenhagen’s most eye-catching high-rises, but for every Zaid, there are thousands of his peers living in much less spectacular conditions.

But even if it’s clear that these social issues are important for the director, international audiences may better remember and appreciate the film’s excellent, sometimes gut-wrenching action sequences. Aided by Kasper Tuxen’s impressive camerawork, Ahmad easily navigates the very different spaces of his story, from the immaculate hospital where Zaid saves lives to the sordid alleyways and cramped drug-dealing apartments where he ends them. Even if the protagonist’s motivations turn him into something akin to an antihero, as he seems determined to wreak revenge even if this means sacrificing his career, family and, ultimately, his life, he is definitely a character the audience will want to accompany on his violent, bloody path. 

Darkland was produced by Danish outfit Profile Pictures. The film is being handled internationally by TrustNordisk.

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