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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 New Directors

Review: Neon Heart

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- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Writer-director Laurits Flensted-Jensen explores the norms and boundaries of modern society through the story of three unhappy protagonists

Review: Neon Heart
Victoria Carmen Sonne in Neon Heart

Danish writer-director Laurits Flensted-Jensen is taking part in San Sebastián's New Directors section with his first feature, Neon Heart [+see also:
trailer
interview: Laurits Flensted-Jensen
film profile
]
. Following three mutually connected characters as they struggle to find the right life for themselves, the filmmaker tackles the themes of growing up, sexuality, disability, addiction, and the need for affection and belonging.

Laura (Victoria Carmen Sonne, whose profile is clearly rising after her roles in both Winter Brothers [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Elliott Crosset Hove
interview: Hlynur Pálmason
film profile
]
and Holiday [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) is back in Denmark after a short stint in the American porn industry. Now she is taking care of disabled people, and a child – but it is not specified who exactly the baby belongs to.

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Niklas (Niklas Herskind, also seen this year in Lovers) is a recovering drug addict who, as part of his post-rehab social therapy, works with people with Down syndrome, while still dabbling in drugs. He is the ex-boyfriend of Laura, and she hesitantly wants to get back in touch with him.

Frederik (Noah Skovgaard Skands) is Niklas' 17-year-old brother. As his older sibling says in a rehab meeting, they grew up in a feminist commune. Frederik is a gentle boy, but he wants to prove his manliness by taking part in an upcoming hooligan fight, along with a more adventurous buddy.

The film opens with Laura's porn audition, and this part of her life is shown to us through unsavoury and often explicit POV clips scattered throughout the film. Editor Frederik Strunk at times contrasts these with shots of what she is trying to make of her life now, and what her childhood used to be like, alternating photos from that era with those from a porn photo shoot. In the world of the internet, it is impossible for Laura to hide her recent past – but she still goes to get a tattoo on her back removed by laser. 

Meanwhile, for the 40th birthday of one of his protégés, Niklas takes him and one of his friends with Down syndrome to a brothel. Contrary to Laura's segments, these scenes possess a remarkably tender innocence, showing us what Flensted-Jensen is most interested in: how our perception of expected roles and behaviours can easily be turned on its head and win out over our prejudices. Or, perhaps, just confirm them: another scene with Laura and a disabled individual she is taking care of proves that even a wheelchair-bound man can be abusive.

DoP Balthazar Hertel's camerawork is more than competent, and the use of lighting, especially in nocturnal, blue and red neon-tinted scenes, makes the atmosphere ambiguous, hinting at dark undertones in what is, according to most studies and polls, considered the happiest society in the world. Judging by the lives and aspirations of our protagonists, statistics are just figures that do not have much of a bearing on an individual's life. 

Neon Heart was produced by Denmark's Walenciak Film, and is handled internationally by Paris-based Stray Dogs.

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