email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

BERLINALE 2024 Competition

Review: Sons

by 

- BERLINALE 2024: Gustav Möller crafts an accomplished sophomore feature telling us some uncomfortable truths about the lives of prison guards and inmates

Review: Sons
Sidse Babett Knudsen in Sons

When we see the first few scenes of Gustav Möller’s sophomore feature, Sons [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, we may feel that its captivating protagonist, an idealistic prison guard in her fifties called Eva Hansen (portrayed by Sidse Babette Knudsen), is the sort of fish-out-of-water character who may be more suited to teaching children’s history lessons in a primary school. Luckily enough, the director of The Guilty [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gustav Möller
film profile
]
proves us wrong all the way. Through solid writing and an engaging narrative pace, this picture, which has been world-premiered in the main competition strand of this year’s Berlinale, is teeming with surprises.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)
Hot docs EFP inside

At first, Eva looks like a patient, caring – yet energetic and determined – presence who works in a prison block where, for most of the inmates, rehabilitation is a rather realistic, achievable goal. In detail, we get acquainted with a leading character who is totally absorbed by her work and who seems to have no life to speak of outside of the prison. Möller tasks Jasper J Spanning’s camera to follow Eva up close all the time. Moreover, the constant claustrophobic feeling is further enhanced by the compressed aspect ratio. Spanning and Möller chase and peek at Eva while she runs in and out of the jail cells and up and down the corridors, helping the inmates study or teaching them yoga with pre-recorded audio tracks playing on an old stereo.

But rest assured, there is no sugarcoating at all. On the contrary, as the first turning point arrives, Möller’s tale takes a very violent, cruel path. In particular, Eva is forced to face the dilemma of a lifetime when a young man from her past, Mikkel (Sebastian Bull), is transferred to the prison where she works. Eva is obsessed by his presence and asks to be moved to his block, the toughest and most dangerous in the facility. From this moment on, her character develops significantly – and we’ll find out her darker side.

Interestingly, the narration continuously teeters in between the boundaries of the psychodrama and thriller genres – it is a balance that’s not particularly easy to strike, but Möller’s direction and dry dialogues (penned with Emil Nygaard Albertsen) certainly help.

What might not totally convince the audience – and understandably so – is the fact that Eva’s connection with Mikkel seems hard for her colleagues and the other prison staff to uncover. It’s still a more or less plausible fact, but in fairness, we need to acknowledge that such “poetic licence” is required for the whole story to unfold, and to set up clear conflicts and motives.

It’s also worth adding that Knudsen, Bull and Dar Salim (who convincingly plays Rami, one of Eva’s supervisors in the most dangerous prison block) deliver credible portrayals of their respective characters. In particular, Knudsen’s interpretation of Eva’s evolution is spot on, and Bull imbues his role with the right dose of unpredictability.

All in all, Möller has crafted a solid sophomore feature that reminds us of some uncomfortable truths about the goals and limits of rehabilitation, while delving into the inner struggle of a leading character torn between her sense of duty and her personal dilemmas.

Sons was staged by the Swedish and Danish arms of Nordisk Film Production. Paris-based Les Films du Losange is selling the film worldwide.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy