*Spoilers & Such*
Dennis (Kim Kold) is an introverted bodybuilder, who lives with his elderly mother Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft). One day he decides to call up Patricia (Lykke Sand Michelsen), this cute chick from the gym and ask her out on a date. Suspecting that his mother won’t like him hanging out with anyone other than herself, especially not a woman, he tells her that he’s going to the movies with his friend Peter. His passive aggressive mother obviously knows that he’s lying to her and manipulates him into making him feel guilty. Mothers, right?
In 2007 Danish filmmaker Mads Matthiesen released his fourth short film Dennis, which he purposely made with only non-professional actors. Dennis is the story of a lonely man with an impressive body, but a very insecure personality and an unhealthy relationship with his mother. The decision to work with amateur actors and a real life bodybuilder is more than just a gimmick, because it adds a raw and emotionally honest quality to the film. While this film isn’t part of the Dogme 95 canon, it certainly shares a lot of the same traits with Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s avant-garde filmmaking movement/manifesto.
Dennis went on to inspire Matthiesen’s first feature film Teddy Bear (2012), which features the same cast and premise. In Teddy Bear, Matthiesen expands on Dennis’ character and story. Dennis will give you a great taste for what Teddy Bear is and where the massive, but shy bodybuilder comes from. This is a very tight short film. At 18 minutes not a second is wasted. Like Dennis’ body, there’s not an ounce of fat, everything that is on the screen is essential to the story and the character development. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Teddy Bear, which tends to have some pacing issues and unnecessary story-lines.
What I love and appreciate about a short film like Dennis is that it’s not what you’d expect. Not only is it an atypical film, considering its protagonist, but it’s also an atypical short film. Usually, short films tend to play out like a joke, to the point where you almost expect a punchline at the end or a moment where everything is resolved. In Dennis everything ends as it started, or almost. Nothing is resolved, one could say things are even worse. When we meet Dennis at the beginning of the story he wants to change his life, cut the metaphorical chord and find a potential partner.
The only thing in the way in all of this, the only thing that seems to make him unhappy is his mother. As the story unfolds however, Dennis finds more and more confirmation that maybe his mother was right. His date with Patricia doesn’t exactly go as planned. He ends up drinking, which is bad for his training and it’s what his father used to do (as his mother promptly reminds him). This way he only reinforces the notion that he is just like his father, which from what we understand isn’t a compliment. Dennis progressively starts to think that maybe he shouldn’t leave his mother and that things should go back to the way they were before.
The film ends with Dennis sleeping next to his mother, which is sort of the ultimate imagery illustrating the oedipus complex. Elsebeth Steentoft is spectacular as Dennis’ mother Ingrid. The way she looks at him in admiration and almost (?) filled with sexual desire is very uncomfortable. Even more uncomfortable are the scenes where she gives him the silent treatment, making him feel like shit. Kim Kold of course is amazing as the title character. If I didn’t know that he wasn’t an actor I wouldn’t have noticed. He gives such a nuanced, understated and subtle performance, it’s quite remarkable.
The juxtaposition of Dennis’ immense body and his tiny and insecure personality is what I liked most about this film. In a lot of ways Dennis is trying to compensate for his inadequacies by trying to reach physical perfection. His body is the one thing he has complete control over and that he can mold and shape as he pleases. It’s almost as if he has built his own fortress or his own shell, where he can hide and be safe. Maybe his father abused him as a child, certainly his mother didn’t treat him particularly well. It seems that he is lacking the basic love and affection of his mother, which is why he has such trouble finding a girlfriend.
Dennis is very sad story underneath it all. I really liked it, because usually, and not unlike some of the characters in this film, we think of these bodybuilders as a certain type of person and personality. The truth is that not all of them are machos. Some of them are probably like Dennis, but since their exterior is so overwhelming we have trouble seeing beyond that. If you liked Dennis I would highly recommend and encourage you to check out Teddy Bear, in which he goes to Thailand to find his soulmate. It’s a very endearing film and his creepy mother is back for some more creepiness.
I guess Dennis spoke to me personally. I can relate to a lot of the things in this short, it rings very true to me, probably because of my own experiences. It’s a very Danish film, which I love, there’s something about Scandinavian films which really resonates with me. The ones I’ve seen feel more emotionally honest somehow, there’s something about how they view the world which is very fascinating to me and it’s also in the locations, the languages and the people, it’s reminiscent of Switzerland and where I grew up, but it’s also exotic. I actually enjoyed this short so much it makes me want to revisit Teddy Bear.
8.5 out of 10