Saturday, March 18, 2023

Dragen (The Kite) | Lasse Nielsen (writer and director) / 2015 [short film]

staying put

by Douglas Messerli

Lasse Nielsen (writer and director) Dragen (The Kite) / 2015

Ever since the 1975 film Leave Us Alone (La’ os være)Danish film director Lasse Nielsen—his first two works done in collaboration with Ernst Johansen—has been exploring in various forms young long-haired, mostly blond, boys in love in a manner that was not only controversial in its day, but remains a territory which most US directors have been charry of entering. Nielsen’s and Johansen’s 1978 work You Are Not Alone (Du er ikke alene), reviewed in an earlier volume of My Queer Cinema, has long become an LGBTQ cult favorite, shown at film festivals around the world.

     Fortunately, Nielsen never rested on his laurels and continued into the 21st century to shoot features and shorts that speak in various ways about not only coming of age love, but love that has its roots in early youth. Perhaps if the US had further considered these issues there would have been no necessity for a brutally frightening work such as Farbod Khoshtinat’s 2020 short, Two Little Boys, in which innocent boyhood love turns into teen angst and a locker room murder/suicide—a film based on a childhood incident of the Iranian-born director, but is particularly American, I would argue, in its sensibility.

      In his 2015 14-minute film The Kite (Dragen) Nielsen takes us back to those first moments of love that later help define ones sexuality for life. But before we can get there, the director presents us with a seemingly quite lonely adult, Bo (Mark Viggo Krogsgaard) who lives in a small, but comfortable house with walls line with books and paintings, but a back yard of apparently old and rusting yard and patio furniture—folding metal lawn chairs, tables, etc.—and a swing set, as if there once must have been children in the house. Bo seems to be a kind of gardener with lots of plants and vegetables, but also checks out paintings and the jewelry portrayed in one of them with a magnifying glass. Is this his old family homestead or a home from which a wife and child (or children) have now fled. The clues do not completely add up to present us with a definitive answer. But there is certainly something solitary and forlorn about his life.

      Meanwhile, in another beach or country house we see the adult Ole (Mads Korsgaard) working in his garage, completing a home-made paper kite upon which his has rather crudely drawn a smiley-face in blue and red crayons. He picks up his cell phone and makes a call.

       Back in Bo’s house, we observe him in his greenhouse, clipping tomatoes. We hear his phone ring, and he picks it up to see a text message: “Kom til stranden ved Stængehus in morgen kl14. Se efter dragen!” (“Come to Stængehus beach tomorrow at 2:00. Look for the kite.”)

       Bo looks up and remembers, probably, the same message from long ago. And so the film begins with the long-auburn-haired Bo (Marius Bjørnbak Brix) riding his bicycle as a boy to Stængehus strand, which is evidently also a nude beach since, after he parks his bike and proceeds to the sand, a heavyset male nudist crosses the road from the wood, and soon after Bo observes a couple of young men lying nude upon a towel in a deep embrace kissing. Observing the boy, they gently shoo him off. Bo watches for a moment, his lips eventually moving up to a slight smile, before moving on.

       As he moves closer to the shore he observes a kite (much like the one we have seen the adult Ole recreate) high in the air, which finally falls to the beach just above where he stands. The boy Ole (Jonathan Lindinger) signals Bo to join him on the small cliff where he waits. Bo takes off his shoes, pours out the sand from them, and joins Ole to fly the kite.

       The film returns to the adult Bo now sitting on a small chair just outside the greenhouse, holding a glass of wine. A smile, just like to one that came to his face as a kid, comes over his face in his memory of the event.

       And the camera moves back to another day in Bo and Ole’s halcyon days. Together they do what boys do, fly the kite, run after it and one another, and leap into the air with the joy of simply being able to.

        Evidently worn out by their efforts, we soon seem them laid out next to one another on a towel, sleeping. Bo awakens, looks over at the shirtless Ole and, observing his chest, takes off his own shirt. He begins to lie back but remains partially upright, rubbing his foot briefly against Ole’s. When Ole still doesn’t quite awaken, he picks up some sand and sprinkles a little over the other’s chest. In his sleep, Ole brushes it away. But when Bo follows by running his own hand lovingly across his friend’s chest, Ole quickly springs awake, wrestling his way on top of Bo, the other wrestling back into a similar position with Ole repeating it to plant a quick kiss on Bo’s lips. Bo pulls him closer kissing him more gently.

        Obviously, a great deal of affection has risen between these two friends, and slowly, almost as a game of bluff, the two now play at undressing, one first unbuttoning his shorts and the other following, alternately unzipping their shorts and then pulling them down and gradually off to reveal their swimsuits. They do a short striptease with each other eventually, we presume—since Nielsen’s camera has discretely pulled away to watch the high whip of the kite across the sky—until they are both nude.

       But the kite in this instance also becomes a sign of their location, and we soon see Ole’s father (Kenneth Christensen) coming down the path ostensibly to bring his son home. When he spots the naked boys he angrily pulls Ole off, the boy having who mistakenly grabbed Bo’s swimsuit to quickly hide his nakedness. Bo, wrapped in a blanket, looks down to see Ole’s white swimsuit in front of him. It is almost as if in the remnants of their clothing they have exchanged something close to a vow.

        Throughout Bo’s recollections we have heard the lovely strains of a song by Nielsen’s frequent musical collaborator Sebastian, and now that songwriter/composer’s lyrics for “Når lyset bryder frem” (“When the Light Breaks Out”), posted in English at the very beginning of this film, make sense:

                               You little child, on your way to dreamland

                               Suddenly you meet a strange man.

                               He takes you across the deep water

                               To a strange beach

                               Where everything you see

                               Is like a fairy tale.

                               And when the light breaks through,

                               Yeah...time to go home. 

         But this time the “light breaks through” in a different manner, as the adults, Bo and Ole, return to the same beach, Bo, with Ole’s long-lost swimming trunks hanging from his pocket, as in the first time stopping to pour the sand from his shoes which eventually he leaves with the swimsuit before running to join Ole on the small rise from where he is flying the kite. This time the two immediately embrace before releasing themselves in a series of intense kisses—the kite flying off into space—without any fear this time of their being “found out.”

       Not only do we have no idea what has happened to the two in the years since their childhood encounters, but we do know why they have remained apart for what some sources (IMBd for example) describe as a 20-year separation; all we know is that this time they will not have to “go home” alone.

Los Angeles, January 28, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (January 2021).

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