Ostensibly a remake of David Michôd’s outstanding 2010 film Animal Kingdom, Jeanette Nordahl’s Wildland transposes the action of a Melbourne crime family’s nefarious enterprise to leafy Danish suburbia.
Bringing both her experience as assistant director on the popular political series Borgen, as well as the show’s leading lady, Sidse Babett Knudsen, to her debut feature, Nordahl takes sole handle of the reins for the first time here. As much as it can be viewed in its own right, Wildland is a solid debut outing behind the camera for Nordahl.
The film’s original title Kød & Blod (Flesh & Blood) would have been a more welcome anglophone translation to differentiate from its Australian predecessor. And although those familiar with Michôd’s film will know the plot ahead of time, Wildland’s one key departure is in casting a young woman (Sandra Guldberg Kampp, who is strong as Ida, in spite of her character’s very narrow range) in the central role. A bold first image shows a car on its roof, wheels still turning.
Ida’s monotone voiceover speaks to questions being asked about her mother and her aunt: of their estrangement and the causes of the crash. Was booze involved? Why has Ida not seen the other half of her family since infancy? Without any time to come to terms with her mother’s passing, social worker Omar (Omar Shargawi) places Ida in the care of her aunty, Bodil (Knudsen). Under the same roof as grown-up – in age, if not maturity – cousins Jonas (Joachim Fjelstrup), Mads (Besir Zeciri) and prodigal son of the family unit, David (Elliott Crosset Hove), Ida is thrown in the deep end.
Aligned with her point of view for the majority of the film, we learn of the family’s activities in time with Ida. Taking a moment from his spliff and video games to pass Bodil an envelope of cash, Mads’ bloody knuckles are an early warning that the means by which they put food on the table may not be entirely legal. A kiss full on the lips from his mum is his unusual, but apparently run of the mill reward. As for Jacki Weaver’s Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody in Animal Kingdom, there is never any doubt as to who wears the trousers as head of the family.
Silk shirts, gold rings, bangles and earrings may give her the accoutrements of an all-powerful matriarch, but it is in the way Knudsen carries herself, a kind of aura created by movement and delivery that is the most convincing. A club that she runs is the public face of their operations, but money lending is their real bread and butter. One of the strongest assets of Michôd’s film was in not showing the violence for which the Cody family were so infamously known and the same is true of Bodil’s charges.
Told to wait in the car on one outing, Ida witnesses a man dragged back into a house. When that man’s daughter is driven home from school with a note for her father, the implications of not paying up are clear. Creating an air of menace outside of our view, and Ida’s understanding, works well. But a return to this residence and a bungled attempt to procure money owed puts Ida in an impossible position. Thereafter wracked with the obvious quandary of doing the right thing or allegiance to a family she has only really known a matter of weeks, the second half of the film does not sustain consistent tension.
Cinematographer David Gallego (who has previously worked on Embrace of the Serpent and I Am Not a Witch) creates a strong visual aesthetic, and the performances from each of the main cast are good. But even with a trim run time of under ninety minutes, leaving two further female parts underdeveloped, Wildland labours towards what is admittedly an arresting conclusion.
The 2021 Glasgow Film Festival takes place between the 24 February to 7 March. You can follow CineVue’s coverage here.
Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63