Based on the short film Dennis by the same director, Danish film-maker Mads Matthiesen brings us the full feature version of a story about a socially awkward bodybuilder and his efforts to find a woman to share his life. Initially released as 10 Hours to Paradise at the 2012 Sundance film festival, winning its director a gong for best world drama, it finally finds its UK release this year, somewhat baffling rebranded Teddy Bear.
Kim Kold plays man-giant and semi-professional bodybuilder Dennis, whose overtly masculine and tattooed appearance disguises an incredible social ineptitude and shyness. The film’s opening scene finds him at a blind date over dinner, an excruciatingly difficult conversation being ground out between the pair. When Dennis subsequently attends the wedding of an uncle to a young Thai girl, he is persuaded to travel to Thailand to attempt to meet someone himself, but his shyness, as well as his overbearingly controlling mother, force him down a route of little white lies and decisions which only require time to be utterly unravelled.
And it is that ‘uncomfortable’ defines the entire film. Watching Dennis, who is excellently portrayed by the inexperienced Kold, lacking the ability of even the simplest social situation, travel through Thailand being cohered into any money-making scheme and scam the streetwise locals can throw at a European abroad is at times agonising. Matthiesen only skims the very top of the seedy Thai underworld but matched with Dennis’s social anguish he creates an excellent empathic response to proceedings. The fact that we expect a man with Dennis’s physique to be confident and warrior-like is Matthieson’s focal argument and exemplifies Dennis’s discomfort around others; the girls squeeze his muscles, he stands out in a crowd. Yet Dennis wants to be invisible, seamlessly slipping into the background of any group situation. At home he is treated like a child by mother Ingrid, a wonderful turn from Elsebeth Steentoft which only magnifies with time, and this to some degree explains his condition. Constant reminders of how he could become his tyrant father belittle any fractious response he may have during conversations with her. Body-building is his outlet, the one place he can hold his own, the place where he can squeeze his muscles into the mirror with a ridiculous grin, yet he grimaces when people on the street mention his size. The narrative slips down a few expected tropes but as the final third approaches, Dennis’s separate worlds collide, lies unfurl, and he is left with the biggest decision of his life.
Overall Teddy Bear feels somewhat short, yet on reflection is all the better for it. The pace is sharp which in turn causes the shyness and discomfort on display to be bearable. Essentially an essay on isolation and loneliness, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch of the imagination to see a Ghibli anime-reworking. A long overdue UK release but one that in many ways was worth the wait.
Dir: Mads Matthiesen
Scr: Mads Matthiesen, Martin Zandvliet
Cast: Kim Kold, Elsebeth Steentoft, Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard
Prd: Morten Kjems Juhl
DOP: Laust Trier-Mørk
Music: Sune Martin
Run Time: 92 minutes