Dir: Omar Shargawi, Denmark 2008, 90 minutes
High on testosterone and sweaty machismo, Omar Shargawi's debut feature is let down by a lack of subtlety and some shallow characterisation. This is a revenge thriller set in the immigrant Arab community in Copenhagen. Sunnis are pitted against Shias. Shargawi shows plenty of flair for staging fights and chases. The juddering handheld camera work and in-your-face performances have a rough intensity about them, but Shargawi fails to provide many insights into what causes religious hatred or just why families spend generations avenging old wrongs.
Taken as genre fare, Go With Peace (a world premiere in Rotterdam's Tiger competition) passes muster. Distributors who relished the mayhem and violence of Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher trilogy may also warm to the equally anarchic approach here. Made by Zentropa and supported by New Danish Screen (the Danish Film Institute initiative that also yielded Berlinale Silver Bear winner A Soap), the film boasts the irreverence that audiences have come to associate with Danish cinema.
What is perplexing, though, is the absence of political context. Given the furore created by the Muhammad cartoons scandal in Denmark in 2005, one might have expected the filmmakers at least to address the tensions experienced by Danish Muslims living in a secular Western state. Instead, Shargawi largely ignores politics in favour of making a Sam Peckinpah-style action thriller in which everyone kills everyone else in a variety of ever more bloody ways.
The film is set right within the heart of the Arab community. It takes some time to realise that the setting is Copenhagen, not the Middle East. Young Sunni Jamil (engagingly played by Dar Salim) has killed a member of a Shia gang. The gang wants retribution. Jamil's motivation, we eventually learn, was the murder of his mother - a murder that has his wise old pacifist father refused to avenge. Soon, Jamil's best friend Omar is killed while trying to defend Jamil. This intensifies the internecine warfare between the two communities yet further.
Go With Peace is shot in queasy, claustrophobic fashion. The lighting is desaturated, with few primary colours. Characters speak in portentous fashion, making remarks like 'I feel the fire of hell under me' or 'the one you want to kill is not a small bird - he is my son.' They treat revenge as if it is sacred. There is something almost comical about the all consuming desire for retribution that the protagonists here feel and about the tit for tat logic of revenge, which means that each killing spawns another. (As one character says, 'you have to avenge him, he would have avenged you.')
The action sequences are expertly choreographed. In one effective, if derivative, scene, we see Jamil racing through the streets, Jason Bourne-like, with a gang of thugs on his heels. Eventually, he hides out in a bathroom at the back of a mosque. Equally striking is the late sequence of Jamil careering through night-time Copenhagen in search of his son.
By the final reel, we have lapsed yet further into the realm of Aeschylus-style revenge tragedy. There is a character whose eye is sucked out, a child slaughtered and an old man dropping dead in his kitchen. Bizarrely, the violence often happens in public and in plain view, but the Danish police authorities appear to be non-existent. Between the bloodletting, in quiet and intimate scenes, elders agonise over the origins of the violence while Jamil's young son is shown playing with his grandfather.
The screenplay (co-written by Mogens Rukov of Festen fame) throws in occasional moments of well-observed irony. For example, characters are quite ready to shoot and stab one another but can't even begin to countenance eating sausages. In one delightfully observed scene, we see a thickset hoodlum slowly savouring an ice cream, enjoying every last lick, until his friend tells him that the ice cream has been made with animal fat. His gorge rising, he instantly throws the ice cream to the ground.
Both Shia and Sunni communities are chauvinistic. Women are kept in the background. Jamil's father seems far more upset that his daughter-in-law is working as a nightclub dancer than he does at the death of his wife.
The film is very well-cast. Shargawi's actors expertly convey the brutality, fatalism and the yearning of their characters. It takes a certain chutzpah to set a film as bloodcurdlingly violent as any revenge western or gangster film on the streets of Copenhagen. Whether
the storyline is rooted (however tenuously) in fact or whether the filmmakers are trying to make western understand what it is like living in a city divided by religious hatred is unclear. Whatever the case, Go With Peace Jamil proves its director's flair for directing action and coming up with striking images without convincing us that he knows how to tell a feature-length story with any depth.
Meta Louise Foldager
Peter Aalbæk Jensen
Director of photography
Aske Alexander Foss
Henrik Vincent Thiesen
Lasse Mosegaard Jensen
Salah el Koussa