William is a twenty-something American traveling in Europe. Except he's Canadian 'cause "that's still a thing right?" He's obnoxious, rude, a veritable asshole, putting anything he's got left (a potent mix of self-loathing, male ego and hormones) into drinking and fucking. He's also the third wheel. But when his best pal Jeremy goes off to London to get hitched to his girlfriend, William is sidelined in Copenhagen. He is left with a letter from his estranged and deceased father to a Danish grandfather neither of them never really knew. He is left with his sorrow, his anger, and his doubt. He is left with an address. He is left with a moment; the moment and the choice to grow up and let go.
Adrift in a strange new city, William decides he'll try and deliver the letter to this grandfather. Which is a lot harder than expected since he doesn't speak Danish and has no clue where anything is. That is until he meets Effy. They don't start off on good terms. Effy nearly drowns the letter William is having such a hard time reading in a deluge of spilt coffee. Then again he wasn't being very nice to her in the first place. She eventually comes around, and they bond over childhoods bereft of fathers.
Effy, when she wants to be, is resourceful, and seems to have all the right connections. The pair meet with William's long-lost great uncle who tells him that his grandfather was a Danish Nazi. The uncle hands William a stack of photos (his father, 8 years old at famous Copenhagen landmarks), suggests he take them and let it go. Effy, now laying her cards bare as the mischievous and playful youth, insists that she and William go to each location in the photos and recreate them. William isn't too keen on this, but an undeniably electric attraction is building between them and so he plays along.
As they bike through the city, going to Tivoli, the mermaid statue, and even breaking into the house where his father was born, William tells Effy that he's never been in love. She scoffs at his off-handed comment. She doesn't believe him. But it is in the way he says it that we know it is true. William is snared by his youth, stunned and stunted, flash-framed at fourteen -- the age his dad left.
While Mark Raso's feature debut is sometimes a bit too on-the-nose and glaringly choreographed, it's no doubt a charming later-coming-of-age tale. It may lean a little heavily on serendipity and fate, but that's also part of what it makes it so endearing, especially since it doesn't sacrifice any of the harder and darker truths to get there. Like an artful pop song, Copenhagen
finds the magic moments without becoming saccharine, cherishing transformation and truth across several striking passages. None of these is perhaps as special, and as well executed, as when Effy brings William to an art museum. Here she tells him she is a vampire, 345 years old, and here is a bust of her. And it's true, this bust looks strikingly like her. How can this be?
In these moments Raso, along with his two leads, Frederikke Dahl Hansen and Gethin Anthony, conveys a sense of wonder and of youth that is palpable and exciting. This is then framed beautifully by the golden summer light stylings of cinematographer, Alan Poon. It is all a bit reminiscent of Richard Linklater's first entry in his Before series, Before Sunrise
, with a splash of the French New Wave, but it remains surprisingly fresh exactly because its parts are so inherent and vital to the way we tell stories.
A tale of absent fathers, angry youth, and first love, Copenhagen
may end up precisely where we expect it to, but it's because that is where William needs to go to heal.
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