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IFFR 2023 Big Screen Competition

Review: Copenhagen Does Not Exist


- Martin Skovbjerg’s sophomore feature is intriguing on the whole, but its flaws stem from the fact that some of its main characters are largely underwritten

Review: Copenhagen Does Not Exist
Jonas Holst Schmidt and Angela Bundalovic in Copenhagen Does Not Exist

World-premiered in the Big Screen Competition of this year’s IFFR and penned by Norwegian screenwriter Eskil Vogt (Joachim Trier’s trusted collaborator), Martin Skovbjerg’s sophomore feature, Copenhagen Does Not Exist [+see also:
interview: Martin Skovbjerg
film profile
, opens with a rather intriguing premise.

Twenty-something Sander (Jonas Holst Schmidt) is locked in a spacious, empty apartment with a slightly younger boy, Viktor (Vilmer Trier Brøgger), and a man in his sixties, Porath (Zlatko Buric). We find out that Ida (the Amélie Poulain-esque Angela Bundalovic, recently seen in Copenhagen Cowboy [+see also:
series review
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
series profile
), Porath’s daughter and Viktor’s sister, mysteriously disappeared a few months ago. Porath decides to interrogate Sander to find out what happened, tasking Viktor to film their whole conversation.

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Visibly shaken, Sander begins telling him how it all started. What immediately emerges is that the two gradually withdrew from all social contact, despite living in the centre of a vibrant city such as Copenhagen. Often, Ida would spend hours listening to music, wearing headphones and sitting next to the speakers, with Sander sitting on the couch, doing nothing. We will keep on questioning whether the whole choice of isolation is consensual, which lends the whole tale an eerie vibe and makes it hard for viewers to understand who is really the perpetrator, who the victim.

That being said, Sander’s character remains largely underwritten. He has no friends, no relatives, no past, no job (he distractedly claims he used to be a writer, but it’s not clear to what extent we should take his word for it) and very little charisma. We see how he and Ida met for the first time – he timidly engages in a casual conversation with her, next to the entrance of a cinema – but we ultimately struggle to understand what unites them. Some could argue that their obsessive behaviour is the main reason why they stick together, but we clearly see that their desire for segregation emerges gradually, and it had little likelihood of being the trigger for their (toxic) love. The characters of Viktor and Porath suffer from the same lack of depth. We don’t know whether this choice is deliberate, but perhaps Vogt played with too much subtraction here.

The ending, however, is beautifully written and gives meaning to the path taken by Ida and Sander – and to the film’s title – without being overdramatised or descending into obvious clichés.

On the whole, Skovbjerg manages to adequately captivate the audience in his exploration of the “you and me against the world” sentimental trope. That being said, some editing and writing choices make the viewing experience a little too chaotic at times, creating confusion around the timeline of events. Besides, the presence of the camera filming the whole exchange ultimately emerges as redundant, adding nothing to the development of the narrative.

Nevertheless, the performances are spot-on: to some extent, all of the actors are able to imbue their characters with the right impression of their twisted personalities. In this sense, it is worth mentioning Trier Brøgger’s portrayal of Viktor, built up through long silences and creepy looks. Visually speaking, Jacob Møller’s cinematography is also remarkable: the cold colour palette and the careful work on close-ups are effective and fit the disturbing atmospheres permeating this psychological drama.

Copenhagen Does Not Exist was produced by Danish studio Snowglobe. TrustNordisk is in charge of its international sales.

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