DIRECTED BY: Anders Ølholm and Frederik Louis Hviid
STARRING: Jacob Lohmann, Simon Sears, Tarek Zayat, Issa Khattab, Özlem Saglanmak, Arian Kashef, Abdelmalik Dhaflaoui, Josephine Park, Ibrahim Asmaa Ahmad and Dulfi AL-Jabouri
Tensions are high in Copenhagen as a black teenager lies in hospital as a result of police brutality. As two cops patrol the Svalegården ghetto, it’s made public that the teenager has died, leading them having to survive with being hunted down with no back-up.
The exact details of what took place while Talib Ben Hassi, 19, was in police custody remain unclear. Police officers Jens and Mike are on routine patrol in Svalegården’s ghetto when news of Talib’s death comes in over the radio, igniting uncontrollable pent-up rage in the ghetto’s youth who lust for revenge. Suddenly, the two officers find themselves in a fair game and must fight tooth and claw to find a way out.
Shorta is the directorial feature debut for Anders Ølholm and Frederik Louis Hviid, with the duo also co-writing the screenplay. Set in Copenhagen, we open within a hallway of a cell block at a police station, where a commotion is occurring in one of the cells and a police officer rushes in and all we see is nineteen-year-old Talib Ben Hassi pinned to the floor, screaming that he can’t breathe when a police officer is holding him….and then we cut to black. Not much is known about the incident in question, other than Talib Ben Hassi is now in ICU at hospital and protests have sparked across the country looking for answers. In order to maintain control, all officers are brought into the station to patrol the city and maintain a sense of order, leading to Jens Høyer being partnered with Mike Andersen for todays patrol. When they make a routine patrol in Svalegården’s ghetto, media reports that Talib has died, igniting the spark that leads to riots across the city, leaving Jens and Mike stranded in a no-go zone, having to survive where the youth are looking to exact revenge.
The premise behind Shorta is a timely one, as you can’t watch the opening scene and not be immediately reminded of George Floyd’s screams of ‘I can’t breathe’, though the screenplay began its conception over five years ago from Anders Ølholm. After the initial opening with Talib, we focus on the pairing of two police officers Jens and Mike. Mike Andersen is the veteran officer of the two, a hard-nosed, take no-prisoners (verbally and physically) approach to patrolling the streets and isn’t afraid to get in peoples faces and make them feel uncomfortable, be it a street kid or a news cameraman. Jens Høyer however appears to be a calm presence, doesn’t speak as much as Mike and doesn’t try to agitate the public in the way Mike does. The first act spends time making you not like Mike at all, particularly when he comes across young kid Amos Al-Shami just to looking at the wrong place, wrong time, using his power to search and even strip Amos, which accelerates when Amos throws a milkshake at the car and he gets arrested. When the news comes out about Talib and their squad car is attacked by bricks and they crash, we get to see what the officers are really like in a crisis as they go from street to street, trying to navigate their way through the mob and escape the area unharmed…dragging poor Amos along in the process.
The concept of the story is well laid-out by Ølholm and Hviid, is perfectly suited to what is going on across the world today, aiming a magnifying glass on police brutality, an overbearing sense of anger and hatred across the community towards minorities and how people in power can dismiss someone that they consider lesser than themselves and how anger can be lashed out by any means. The film makes an interesting choice of splitting the two leads up in order to see how they survive within the predicament they find themselves in. While some of the action sequences are handled in steadicam, in will depend on the viewers preference as to whether they enjoy these scenes or not, but for me while the shaky cam effect can at times be a bit much, Ølholm and Hviid have a good eye when it comes to framing pivotal scenes and in quieter moments in which we flesh out the characters of Jens and Mike.
Jacob Lohmann gets to play a particularly complex character in Mike Andersen, who is easily dismissive of the youths in Svalegården, believing those in the area to be nothing short of vandals and inevitable criminals as a local gangster tries to recruit them when they’re young. While he’s not exactly a character to root or care for, you also can’t help watching due to Lohmann’s performance in the role. Meanwhile Simon Sears gives just as much of a compelling performance as Jens Høyer, an officer who was there the night in question of Talib ending up from a cell to an ICU ward, and keeps the audience guessing with his demeanour in trying to dissect just what occurred on the night in question, and also see that his quiet behaviour is soon decimated when he and Mike have to go into survival mode. I believe this was the first acting credit for some (if not most) of the young cast involved in the film and I thought Tarek Zayat gave a really good performance as Amos, who was given much more depth as a character than I initially thought, and Issa Khattab also gave a good performance as Iza. Unfortunately I found Shorta didn’t really quite stick the landing when it came to the final act, it felt about ten to fifteen minutes to long and there’s a particular character that’s brought in that felt shoehorned in.
Shorta is an impressive directorial feature debut from Anders Ølholm and Frederik Louis Hviid, with two solid lead performances from Jacob Lohmann and Simon Sears in this police brutality-survival thriller.