Danish director Nick Donato :: gays, neo-Nazis and ’The Brotherhood’

by Ed Rampell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday August 5, 2010

Director/co-writer Nick Donato's The Brotherhood is one of those reasons why film-lovers flock to foreign films. This powerful, no holds barred Danish movie, which won the 2009 Rome Film Festival's prize for Best Film, candidly deals with two taboo topics: Nazism and homosexuality. Set in contemporary Denmark, The Brotherhood opens with a homophobic attack by neo-Nazi thugs that eventually boomerangs. Among the gay bashers are the fascists' ringleader, Fatso (Nicolas Bro), Patrick (Morten Holst) and his older brother, Jimmy (David Dencik), a muscular jackbooter tattooed with Hitlerian symbols.

Blonde, handsome Lars (Thure Lindhardt), who has left the military after being accused of coming on to male soldiers, moves back home, where he has a rocky relationship with his petit bourgeois parents, especially with his mother (Hanne Hedelund), a conventional politician. The floundering, directionless Lars falls in with the neo-Nazi wolf pack, and becomes a top candidate for membership after he participates in a white supremacist raid on a refugees' shelter. In Europe as in America, picking on non-white immigrants is the favorite pastime of rightwing pigs.

Things become complicated when the closeted Lars and Jimmy secretly become lovers, as homosexuals are just about the only individuals neo-Nazis despise more than foreigners living on their turf. (Perhaps the only ones they find more contemptible are Jews - and Communists, ever popular as the people reactionaries love to hate.) The sex scenes between Lars and Jimmy are well shot and erotic, although not graphic. As The Brotherhood inexorably builds towards its explosive climax, Donato also presents us with a history lesson about the Third Reich's Nazi Party and its own homosexual members. In the end, does love conquer all - even among those who would conquer the world?

Donato, the 1974-born son of immigrants, knows something firsthand about newcomers to a strange land, and their plight. He got his start in cinema by working for Zentropa, the Danish film company co-created by Lars van Trier (who made 1996's Breaking the Waves with Emily Watson) of the so-called "Dogme 95" or "Dogma" cinematic movement. The influence of Dogma's purist philosophy -- which eschewed Hollywood big budgets and special effects and emphasized things like location (instead of studio) shooting - is evident in The Brotherhood. This is the first theatrically released feature film by Donato, who previously directed several works for television.

The Brotherhood opens in New York on Aug. 6 and in L.A. on Aug. 20. Donato discussed his complex, thought provoking film and the hard-hitting issues it raises with EDGE's L.A. Report columnist, Ed Rampell.

From dishwasher to filmmaker

EDGE: Tell us about your personal background?

Nick Donato: My background is Italian, I am born in Denmark and moved to Italy and came back when I was 4 years old.

EDGE: How did you get into movies?

Nick Donato: I started as a fashion photographer but decided to start from scratch and took a job as a dishwasher at Zentropa and worked my way up. I love it and I hope I can go on and make movies.

EDGE: How did you get the idea for The Brotherhood?

Nick Donato: I saw a documentary [at] the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Denmark named Man Heroes and Gay Nazis.

EDGE: Denmark is considered to be a prosperous nation with lots of generous social programs and rated as "the happiest country on Earth" by an ABC "20/20" report. How accurate is this picture?

Nick Donato: It’s a fucking fairytale here in Denmark and now Japan got our Little Mermaid and sarcasms is our strength, ha ha ha.

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Watch the Danish trailer for The Brotherhood with English subtitles:

Danish ’don’t ask/don’t tell’?

EDGE: Are neo-Nazis a big problem in Denmark? What is the Neo-Nazi situation and presence in Denmark?

Nick Donato: Problem with the neo-Nazis in Denmark is that we have them but we don’t see or hear so much from them.

EDGE: Lars is denied a military promotion for alleged sexual improprieties with male soldiers. What is the situation of gays in the Danish military? Does it have a "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy or what?

Nick Donato: I actually don’t know but we have freedom of speech so if one were to not tell it’s the person’s own decision.

EDGE: Is there still a draft in Denmark or is it a volunteer army? And are Danish soldiers serving in combat anywhere in the world now, such as Afghanistan?

Nick Donato: Yes there is still a draft and we have soldiers in Afghanistan.

EDGE: What is the over all situation of LGBT people in Denmark, which is perceived here as being a sexually permissive society?

Nick Donato: They aren’t fighting so hard as in other countries but they are still exposed to hate crime.

EDGE: In America, secretly gay politicians often vote for homophobic laws in order to hide their own sexual preferences. Jimmy is a closeted homosexual. What attracts him to being a member of the anti-gay neo-Nazis? Is he attempting to cover-up his homosexuality by projecting an ultra-"masculine" aggressive persona? Compensating for a sense of inadequacy by believing he’s part of the "master race"? And is Jimmy cleverly hiding his own homosexuality by associating himself with a homophobic group?

Nick Donato: This movie is about love and feeling and Jimmy just fall in love. My prospective is you can’t control your feelings and you need to run with it no matter how much it’s going to cost you and even in the most absurd places for love to grow.

EDGE: Lars, too, is gay. What is the appeal of Nazism for gays?

Nick Donato: I don’t want to answer that question.

EDGE: Are you trying to say "queers" are abnormal and this is who is attracted to fascism - sick, twisted people? That "queers" are attracted to black leather and boots?

Nick Donato: No.

EDGE: Is Patrick [Jimmy’s neo-Nazi brother] also supposed to be gay?

Nick Donato: No.

Historical context

EDGE: The Brotherhood deals with the history of homosexuality and Nazism. Please tell us about Ernst Roehm [the SA Commander widely believed to be gay], the "Night of the Long Knives," and why and how Hitler dealt with his National Socialist "competitor"? And what is the relation of this piece of history to your film?

Nick Donato: This is a longer discussion... Ernst Roehm became too powerful to Hitler and he was therefore killed.

EDGE: To your knowledge, is it true that Hermann Goering liked to dress up in drag? If so, what do you make of this?

Nick Donato: Well I don’t know whether or not if it’s true, but if he did good for him. Curt Cobain wore nightgowns so that just says you got to go with your feelings.

EDGE: Did the Nazis persecute gays and have a special anti-gay law under Hitler? Were they interned in concentration camps for being gay?

Nick Donato: I don’t know if there were an actual law for gays but they wore a pink triangle in concentration camps together with rapist[s], sexual offenders and pedophiles. And after the war they were actually imprisoned but in the ’70s ties the pink triangle became the symbol for the fight for gay rights.

EDGE: What is the actual threat of neo-Nazis today to Denmark and the rest of Europe today during this period of economic hardship and uncertainty?

Nick Donato: In Denmark it isn’t a big threat but no neo-Nazis give a good impression.

EDGE: What is your position on immigrant rights?

Nick Donato: It’s our duty to help others.

EDGE: What is your position on gay rights?

Nick Donato: A lot of my friends are gays and I think it’s unfair that they can’t get married in a church like the rest of us. We live in the 21st Century we need to get over people’s sexuality choices. But again it’s a bigger discussion... I’m very passionate about this subject...

EDGE: What do you care to say about your own sexual orientation?

Nick Donato: Ask my girlfriend.

EDGE: What project(s) do you have coming up?

Nick Donato: I’m working on two new projects. The first one is about when love is unexpectedly taken away from you. The second is about a mother fighting for her son.

EDGE: Is there anything I left out that you’d like to mention?

Nick Donato: As I always say no humans are born evil it’s our environment, society and upbringing that shapes us. We need to remember our next.

The Brotherhood opens at the Cinema Village in New York on August 6th and at Laemmle Sunset 5 Los Angeles on August 20th. For more information visit the film’s webpage.

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