Cannes review: Free Men (2021)

Festival de Cannes

Courtesy of Cinéfondation, Festival de Cannes 2021

At this year’s edition of Cannes film festival, there is a strong presence of Danish short oddball films screening in different programme sections. One of them is the dark comedy Free Men by Óskar Kristinn Vignisson that runs in programme 3 of the Cinéfondation selection.

Dreaming big in a place of broken dreams is as old as the history of humankind: the wish to break free from drab reality, a burning hope that a wonder will change one’s life forever, a desire to start anew. And then, there are those who dream small, or not dream at all. They comply with rules and silently endure hardships because that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Best friends and work colleagues Daniel (Nicolai Jørgensen) and Emil (Anton Hjejle) are the archetypes of those radically different approaches to life. Emil has no complaints, and anything goes. Daniel on the other hand has big plans should the needed money somehow fall in his lap.

When Gustav (Henrik Birch), the owner of the employee hotel needs help with things that went wrong, he isn’t keen on paying professionals to fix the broken, so he reaches out to the fish factory boss Lars to find him working hands. He is also not a type of guy who pardons or forgets a mistake. This is a lesson that Daniel and Emil will have to learn the hard way.

Free Men is a bitter comedy about two friends who end up in a not so funny situation that jeopardizes their factory jobs. Óskar Kristinn Vignisson is showing what happens when a concrete choice between individual freedom and finacial security has to be made, and he is very effective in bringing those options close to the audience. Particularly paradoxical is the ‘secure side’ of the coin, which is the underpaid fish factory job.

The overall excellent production design by Signe Krab Nymann is a constant reminder of the setting in which such choices are offered: coastal houses with facades battered by harsh winds, the greyness of factory’s aluminium belly and the depressing atmosphere of the local bar which welcomes same faces every single day.

There is a feature-length version of Free Men in development which is something that one can really look forward to, although the short already has all the components of a good, fullrounded film.

Original Title: Frie mænd
Country: Denmark
Language: Danish
Year: 2021
Runtime: 28′
Producer: Søs Thøstesen
Directed by: Óskar Kristinn Vignisson
Written by: Sune Kofod Maglegaard & Óskar Kristinn Vignisson
Cinematography: Christian Karlsen
Cast: Nicolai Jørgensen, Anton Hjejle, Søren Malling, Henrik Birch, Lars Junggreen, Tina Gylling
Editor: Mie Sofie Nielsen
Set decorator: Signe Krab Nymann
Sound: Diana Queirós
Music: OLafur Bjorn Olafsson
Supported by: Den Danske Filmskole, TV2 Denmark, Maan rental, Filmgear, Thisted Kommune, Dansk Metal,
Fonden for Entreprenørskab, Beckett Fonden, Nordisk Film, SF Film, Zentropa, Motor Film, Toolbox Film,
Apple Tree Productions, Profile Pictures