Mads Matthiesen picked up a Best Director award at this year’s Sundance with Teddy Bear, a distinctive, heartfelt and richly rewarding film about a shy and retiring 38-year-old bodybuilder named Dennis (Kim Kold) looking for love. The first time we meet Dennis, his kind, quiet demeanour is as striking as his large, hulking frame; he’s a crushingly awkward man, somewhat hamstrung by his giant physique, which causes women to stereotypically pawn him off as a lecherous meathead. His self-esteem is further dented by his overbearing, passive-aggressive mother Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft), and it’s clear that the two are far too comfortable living with one another.
When Dennis’ brother brings home a Thai bride, his yearnings to settle down are re-awakened. The problem, as ever, is that he is judged on his large frame, which is somewhat at odds with his gentle personality. Fed up of vapid women asking to see his muscles, he ventures to Thailand in search of a more understanding kind of woman. Here Matthiesen milks the fish-out-of-water quality of Dennis’ trip, making light of Thailand’s bizarre sexual mores, such as having to pay a premium to bring a girl back to your hotel room, and the social stigma around kissing in public. This results in a few excruciatingly funny set-ups, namely when a pal introduces him to a girl who is quite clearly a prostitute, and as Dennis stares around at all the couples with Thai locals sitting on their laps, it can’t be more abundantly clear that he doesn’t belong there. Compounding this is the fact that his mother isn’t answering her phone, isolating him completely.
Eventually, Dennis meets one woman, Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard), the widowed owner of a gym, and they form a very sweet, seemingly genuine connection. Just when one expects things to get a might too treacly, Matthiesen smartly flouts convention, in the way of something that feels both authentic and affecting. This romance isn’t complete without its own painfully awkward – and uproariously hilarious – showdown, leading to a brilliant climax which makes it clear the film is less a sex farce about the big-man finding love, and more one about him learning to grow up.
Kim Kold was a non-actor prior to working on Matthiesen’s 2007 short Dennis, but he demonstrates a staggering eye for subtlety far beyond his limited experience. Note an early conversation, in which a man says to Dennis, “I wouldn’t wanna get into a fight with you”, to which Dennis sheepishly retorts, “no”, while wearing a confused look on his face. It’s a small moment – seemingly suggesting that, despite his large frame, he’s never been in a fight – but packed with meaning thanks to Kold’s expressive countenance and unexpected acting instincts.
A straight-forward telling of an affecting, devastatingly funny tale, topped by a magnificent lead performance from Kim Kold as Ken, the gentle giant.
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