“SPEEDWALKING”— From Boy to Man


From Boy to Man

Amos Lassen

In a quirky small town located on the outskirts of everything, 14-year-old Martin is getting ready for one of the most formal transitions from boy to man: the communion. It is 1976 and everything seems great but in the midst of it all, Martin’s mother suddenly passes away and her death influences a series of events that not only change Martin’s life forever, but also affect everyone else in the community. This humorous and evocative story is about how life and death demand a transition in us all.

Danish director Niels Arden Oplev  brings us a semi-sweet coming-of-age comedy. It follows the tentative sexual inquiries of a 13-year-old boy who is dealing with his mother’s death.

Martin (Villads Boye) is a sensitive, sensible adolescent who methodically manages the seating arrangements for his upcoming confirmation party. We meet him on the day of his mother’s sudden, cancer-related death. His neighbor Lizzie looks in on the grieving family as do various other well-wishers but it is Martin who appoints himself chiefly responsible for pulling his stricken household together. His clueless father (Anders W. Berthelsen) and sullen older brother (Jens Malthe Naesby) are petrified by grief.

Martin plays down his mourning process and concentrates more intently on his budding libido. His are complicated by his ongoing sexual talk with his male best friend, Kim (Frederik Winther Rasmussen), which gradually crosses the line from boys-will-be-boys horseplay into something more intimate.

Director Oplev gives us a delicately candid depiction of the earliest stage of teen sexuality, where all options are open. While Martin’s dad doesn’t mind sharing certain awkward sexual confessions with his sons, homosexuality is only tacitly accepted. Martin was told that his gay uncle Kristian, (Pilou Asbaek) lives with another man “because of the housing shortage in Copenhagen.” Meanwhile, Kristine’s shrugging acceptance of the pill because “boys hate rubbers” puts us into a world that is pre-AIDS.

Sexual politics are presented largely without comment and give purpose to the film’s period setting. We really see the continuing divergence between European and American cultural sensibilities.

It’s the beginning of summer 1976 and 14-year-old Martin is preparing for his upcoming Christian confirmation ceremony when his mother Maja (Stine Stengade) unexpectedly dies after a sudden onset of cancer. His devastated father can barely deal with the tragedy, moving into the basement rather than sleeping in the bed he formerly shared with his wife. Martin’s older brother Jens (Jens Malthe Naesby) isn’t much better off, seeking refuge behind a pair of his mother’s oversize sunglasses day and night. The only ones who understand what Martin is going through are his best friend Kim and his pretty blonde classmate Kristine (Kraka Donslund Nielsen), a nearby neighbor. This is a town where everyone knows the latest news and gossip.

As Martin struggles to cope, he discovers that one of the few advantages of his traumatic emotional ordeal is that Kristine is now taking a much greater interest in him, even hinting that he may be in for a kiss once the mourning period for his mother is over. At school, Martin excels on the speed-walking team, consistently outpacing Kim and his other classmates during practice. Now that he’s discovered sex, however, Kim has other things on his mind, some of which he’d like to share with Martin, who remains fairly clueless. In between daydreaming about Kristine and trying to rally his dad and brother back to some sense of normalcy, Martin indulges his curiosity about Kim’s secret disclosures, some of which give him ideas about how he’d like to pursue Kristine, especially after he claims the promised kiss.

Kristine also has much more intriguing plans in mind, but she’s going to make Martin wait until after their confirmation to explore them. Meanwhile, Martin is also drawing closer to Kim and is caught up in a tumult of hormonal urges and unfocused desire. We do not know if all of this confusion will set the course for Martin’s adult life or just prove to be a passing youthful diversion. However, it’s clear there’s no going back to the innocent days before his mother’s death.

It seems that there is a sexual revolution taking place in the film’s small Danish town. In addition to Martin’s tentative explorations, his father is having an affair with the local hairdresser and his brother is accepting sexual favors from an older woman cheating on her husband, who’s probably cheating on her too.

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