It’s generally wise not to look for themes in a filmmaker's résumé. It has a nasty tendency to make the stories less rich. But one probably wouldn’t ruin anything by saying that Michael Noer, 34, likes stories about young people who step up and grow up. Nearly all his films are about these little fledglings perched on a branch high up in a tree preparing to plunge into life. Will they spread their wings and fly? Or will they break their necks?
In his 2007 documentary, "Vesterbro", Noer filmed his neighbours, a young couple, as their relationship took them into adulthood. Another documentary, "The Wild Hearts" (2008), tracks a group of cheeky lads making a Grand Tour of Europe on their mopeds. His first feature, "R" (directed with Tobias Lindholm, 2010), is about a young criminal caught in a power struggle among hardened prison inmates.
Now, in "Northwest", two teenage brothers are forced to grow up as a gang war escalates around them in Nordvest, a notoriously rundown, multiethnic working-class neighbourhood of Copenhagen.
"Northwest" takes its name from the rundown Copenhagen neighbourhood where Casper, 18, lives with his mother, younger brother and little sister. Casper sells stolen goods to local gang leader Jamal, but when he gets an offer to work for Jamal’s rival Bjørn, he jumps at the opportunity to advance himself, entering Bjørn's world of drugs and prostitution. Soon, tensions between Bjørn and Jamal escalate, and as Casper’s brother Andy is drawn in as well, Casper finds himself and his family dead centre of a conflict that threatens to destroy them.
Stylistically, "Northwest" extends Michael Noer and Tobias Lindholm’s debut feature, "R". Real-life rules determine the story’s development. "Northwest" doesn’t spell out its characters' background or psyches – it shows us how they react in a given situation.
Clearly fascinated with a rough environment where the law of the jungle rules, Noer also paints a heartfelt portrait of two big kids who are really happiest at home with their mother and younger sister.
While Noer's films have plenty of other interesting angles and themes, including manhood, jackass-type rituals, raw power and sensitivity, the drama of stepping up and taking responsibility clearly fascinates him.
It creates a space to explore extreme environments and an opportunity to describe the sensitivity of someone who is trying to desensitise himself. There is room to have the civilised and the uncivilised, the nice and the ugly, the gentle and the tough, collide in dramatic ways. It is also a good fit for Noer himself, who is part rowdy jackass, intellectual thinker, provocateur and sensitive family man.
Following "Northwest", Noer’s next project is set among old people in a nursing home. It would be very unlike the director not to have the story embrace people who are going through a liminal drama, as they take another step away from innocence and into the adult world.
Read interview with Michael Noer