Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teddy Bear: the Big Hearted Sundance Award Winner

Why do single men visit Thailand?  Right, but not Dennis Petersen.  He is there looking for true love.  It ought to be able to find him.  The Danish bodybuilder is certainly conspicuous enough in Mads Matthiesen’s Teddy Bear (trailer here), which opens tomorrow at New York’s Film Forum.

It takes about ten seconds to figure out why the gentle giant is so socially awkward.  His controlling mother Ingrid is something else alright.  However, when his bachelor uncle Bent returns from Thailand with a surprise bride, Petersen is persuaded to give it a try himself.  Of course, as far as Mother Ingrid knows, he is in Dusseldorf for a competition—and even that cover story didn’t go over so well.

Connecting with Uncle Bent’s more or less procurer, Petersen is profoundly put off by the realities of Thailand’s sex tourism trade.  He prefers the friendly environment of a local gym.  It happens to be run by Toi, the relatively young widow of the original proprietor.  Once the two meet, things should run their course, but Petersen remains painfully shy and he still has mother dearest waiting back in Denmark.

Expanding on his well received short film, simply titled Dennis, Matthiesen snagged the directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  He certainly shows rare patience and restraint in his feature debut.  Foreswearing big dramatic showiness, he is true to his protagonist’s introversion (as well as the general Scandinavian reserve).  Instead, he focuses on small but telling moments that ultimately add up quite nicely.

Probably nobody else in the world could have played Petersen quite as credibly Kim Kold, reprising his role in the precursor short.  He certainly has the hulking physique, but he also projects a very real sense there is a deeply sensitive soul buried beneath that muscle mass.  Likewise, Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard is quite endearing as the woman who can see Petersen for the man he is and also perhaps the man he can still be.  Yet, nobody makes a greater impression than Elsebeth Steentoft, fiercely steely as the brazenly manipulative mother.

Matthiesen has a nice visual sense, often making the oversized Petersen look small amid the teeming vice-filled streets of Pattaya.  Though definitely unhurried, his pacing is never slack or labored.  Rather, he takes viewers exactly where he intends to, in his own good time.  Recommended for mature viewers, meaning those who have seen a bit of life and can appreciate Petersen’s halting efforts to find his place in the world, Teddy Bear opens tomorrow (8/22) in New York at Film Forum.