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Film is gentle giant's quest to cut the apron strings
'Teddy Bear' will be shown Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Historic Yuma Theatre, 254 S. Main St.
The screening, part of the Arizona Western College Foundation’s Thursdays at the Theatre, includes an independent short film and a hosted discussion.
Languages are Danish, English and Thai, with English subtitles. Run time of the feature is 96 minutes; admission is $5.
The understated Danish film “Teddy Bear” is a study in contrasts.
Most obvious is the disconnect between the physique and the personality of the main character, Dennis. He's a world-class heavyweight bodybuilder and even has giant swirling tattoos; but he's quiet and shy, and he's hopelessly awkward with women. Along the same lines, his mother is about a fourth his size, but she controls his every move, to the point that he's 38 and has never been in a romantic relationship.
Reaching far beyond the level of character study, though, the film contrasts whole lifestyles – of Northern Europe and Southeast Asia. In fact, the opposition is between whole world views. As the director puts it, “It is an encounter between the West and the Third World, between two very different approaches to love.”
Mother knows best
The film opens with Dennis on what might very well be his first date, with a shallow bleach-blonde he met at the gym, and it isn't going well. He has to keep getting up to go to the bathroom because he can't think of anything to say. He's appropriately embarrassed that he can't eat the shrimp cocktail he ordered because, well, he's allergic to shrimp. And his date is offended when his eyes wander to the cleavage she's intentionally dressed to display.
To make it all worse, when Dennis gets home he has to tell Mom he's been to the movies with Lars, because there can't be any women in his life but her. She knows he's lying, of course; even if he had answers to her cross-examinations, she would know from his guilty expression. He's just like his father, she says, dealing her ultimate punishment as she heads for her room.
But Dennis' frustrations reach new heights after he goes to a party at the house of an uncle, who has recently brought back a much younger – and better looking – bride from Thailand, where meeting women is clearly much less complicated.
Cup of Thai tea
Making the excuse that he has to travel to Germany for a competition, Dennis flies to the tropical city of Pattaya and looks up his uncle's connection, a dissipated American named Scott, who runs a bar called the Sugar Shack. Scott's idea of a companion for Dennis is one of the girls who rent their services by the hour or the night, but it will take something a lot more substantial for Dennis to overcome the unbreakable bond he's always had with Mom.
Where Dennis is universally comfortable, though, is in the gym. Lifting weights is a universal language, and at the little family-owned business where he spends his daylight hours they even have magazine clippings of his professional triumphs.
Would he rather spend the evenings at the Sugar Shack, mingling with the teenage girls and their middle-aged expat johns? Or would he rather hang out with the bodybuilding gang and with Toi, the sweet widowed owner of the gym…?
This month at the Thursdays at the Theatre series, there is a special connection between the short film and the feature, and films buffs who show up to the Historic Yuma Theatre for this screening will be treated to a lesson in the evolution of a creative idea.
Like many independent moviemakers, director Mads Matthiesen began his career by making short films. And the foundation for “Teddy Bear,” his first full-length feature, was an 18-minute short titled “Dennis,” which gained enthusiastic acclaim around the world, including at the Sundance Film Festival.
Although the short, made five years earlier, uses the same actors and the same setup as the feature, it doesn't have any of the same scenes. “Teddy Bear” even could be considered the sequel and, more importantly, as the culmination of the unresolved conflict in “Dennis.”