Depending upon your situation, Judge Dennis Prince suggests you may want to be alone when you view this unusual coming-of-age drama from Denmark.
You are not alone,
Although the above translation of Danish songwriter Sebastian is a bit clumsy, it's somehow suitable to this 1978 journey into the age of awareness for the boys of a Danish boarding school. You Are Not Alone (Du Er Ikke Alene) dared, in 1978, to venture into the realm of male pre- and post-pubescent attitudes. Unafraid to depict teen boys in their swirling state of uncertainty, both physically and mentally, the picture aims its sights squarely upon the controlling adults who don't always offer what's best for these youngsters and often add to the angst and confusion. Through the ordeal, youngsters often are left to brood over the thought that theirs might be a solitary situation.
Facts of the Case
Bo (Anders Agensø) is leaving the public school system for a boarding school. His last days of school break, spent swimming with a friend, seem to indicate the 15 year old is eager to leave behind a time of being teased, taunted, and talked about even though he'll spend his next school year in a boarding hall alongside numerous other teen boys.
As the school session gets underway, it's clear that Headmaster (Ove Sprogøe) is more concerned with his own societal status and with impressing representatives of the municipality than he is with the students themselves. His harsh and overbearing style is quick to stifle any of the boys in their questions and confusion over society and how they are to become contributing adults in their own right. He even squelches his own 12-year-old son, Kim (Peter Bjerg), wanting to segregate the boy from the attending students, indicating they will never become viable members of the community. Out of frustration and with a tinge of defiance, Kim befriends Bo. Clearly, Kim admires Bo simply because the 15 year old is considered one of the "older kids." Bo likewise enjoys Kim's company, eager to share his slight edge of experience with the Headmaster's son. Soon, the two are sharing an even closer bond, one that emerges as clearly affectionate though not necessarily passionate.
Back at the school, the Headmaster has threatened to expel the brash Ole (Ole Meyer) when nude photos of women are found on the walls of the boy's room. The rest of the boys disagree and outwardly proclaim their protest. At this, the Headmaster then threatens to cancel the graduation proceedings and vows to thwart the youths in their plan to present a film that will depict, as envisioned through their untainted eyes, a demonstration of the Biblical imperative to "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."
This picture is certainly as vague and contradictory as are the lives of the youth it portrays. Certainly, the film has had something of a controversial past, charged with promoting under-age sexuality and encouraging homosexual engagement among young boys. However, upon viewing, the film has so much more going on and is most compelling when viewed on its intended intellectual level.
At its core, Your Are Not Alone is a coming-of-age picture that isn't rooted in the usual sexual context as so many pinch-and-giggle excursions have been. Rather, it takes a much more sensitive and sympathetic view into the lives of the youth of the day (sure, it is set in Denmark but the emotions and angst examined could apply nearly anywhere). It's clear at the beginning that Bo's situation is ambiguous, such as when he is tempted to stroke the back of his unaware swimming friend, refraining at the last moment. Is Bo struggling with his sexual identity or is he a boy who seems to plainly lack any sort of physical bond with anyone (we don't know whether he has a family or not)? It would seem presumptuous then, given the faraway look in his eyes and his seemingly resigned quietness, to assume that the boy is in a serious struggle over sexual matters. To that end, it's likewise implausible that he's predatory in his relationship with the younger Kim. In fact, it is Kim who seeks out Bo, and continues to do so, serving as another example of a youngster who is deeply in need of emotional reassurance amid a small social monarchy where such nurturing has been deemed unnecessary.
The most intriguing aspect of the picture is the manner in which it handles the need for nurturing among the boys of the school. Aske (Aske Jacoby) is the incisive youth who serves as the political conscience of the boys and who directly and indignantly challenges the edicts of the Headmaster and staff. Concurrently, he also openly weeps as he longs to be reunited with his parents. Ole, on the other hand, is more apt to act with sheer arrogance and aggression, often directed at the other boys, out of his unmanageable frustration with the school and conceivably also out of uneasiness with his dysfunctional family situation. Most striking is the manner in which the boys seem to exhibit a nonchalance toward physical closeness, usually shirtless or clad only in briefs, not suggesting sexual promiscuity but, rather, reasserting the need for bonding in their formative period.
Their frustrations with the school and with the Headmaster are ultimately expressed in the closing sequence, that being the exhibition of the students' film. In a final act of defiance toward the Headmaster, the film features his own son in an extended kiss with Bo, thus rebuking the authoritarian for his misguided assertions that social order and decency are to be decided by the chosen few and that his own ideals supercede the youths' emotional well being.
You Are Not Alone is not your typical youth drama and, because of the presence of some incidental nudity and language, is definitely not for all ages. Viewers need to be prepared for the relationship between the boys and need to dig deeper to see that it's not buoyed by sheer physicality. Although it is an innocent affair, it's nonetheless unabashed in its depiction and will provide the serious viewer with plenty of food for thought.
Thoughtfully, TLA Releasing has made a sincere effort in the production of this disc. The transfer itself is quite clean and bright, presented in an anamorphic widescreen format of 1.78:1. The picture itself is a bit soft yet that appears to be due to the original source material as opposed to the transfer itself (and to have attempted significant edge enhancement would certainly done more harm than good). The audio is quite clear in a crisp Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. The songs of Sebastian, which underscore several of sequences, do tend to peak to points of occasional shrillness. Generally, though, the audio is clear and well managed. There are no extras except for a paltry offering of six film stills.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It would be quite a stretch to label this as a "gay" film since it never interjects a passion into the relationship between Bo and Kim. If anything, they're acting as surrogates to one another—as are the other boys of the school—in the stark absence any form of healthy bonding and nurturing. Neither should this be considered any sort of illicit dalliance into a realm of underage pornography. In America, there would certainly be difficulty in making and distributing a film of this sort, both today as well as 1978. But, as imported from Denmark, the film serves as a more of a statement about the boarding school philosophy and the impact the practice may have had on blossoming youth. If anything, the film is significantly politically motivated, harkening a recall to the 1960s when young people questioned their lack of impact on public policy and moral standards. To brand this picture as a teeny-boy peep show would be to miss the point entirely.
By the same token, this picture shouldn't be embraced as a "gay" film. Again, it's certainly not. Watching the sudden yet contextually understandable relationship between Bo and Kim, it's more a display of innocence and one that should be regarded with sensitivity and sensibility. Those who might be eager to catch a look at some youthful bodies won't go away disappointed but they, too, would have seriously undersold the intent of the picture to their own discredit and disservice.
We are not alone,
In the end, You Are Not Alone tells of the sense of isolation a young boy might feel as he struggles to find his own path to adulthood. Robbed of a nurturing environment, he might feel outcast, insignificant, or unloved. The film takes this situation to task and provides an unflinching look into the effects of an overbearing and apathetic tutelage that would confuse and conspire against an emerging generation.
Definitely not for all eyes but clearly not guilty.
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