Back in the nineties, a small wave of Danish art dealt with the changing lives in the cities, the drug addicts, the criminals, the people trying to get by as society changed around them. The most famous of these films were Nikolas Winding-Refn’s Pusher, but another example made the link between life in the cities and the crumbling industrial base more explicit: Niels Arden Oplev’s Portland from 1996, named for a cement factory in the town of Aalborg. The film inspired the writer Jakob Ejersbo for his novel Nordkraft, named after a power plant in Aalborg, published in 2002 and adapted for the screen in 2005. The novel takes place almost at the same time as Portland, the early to mid-nineties, and furthers the link between the outcasts and the closed down factories that would have taken them in in the past.
Morten BH’s new film Anti makes the link explicit. The film takes place in the early nineties and deals with another way the old town was taken over in new ways. The story of Simon, a young man from the small town Faxe Ladeplads, who discovers graffiti and starts hanging out in the abandoned factory spaces in Copenhagen, reclaiming the spaces as places for creativity, and dreaming of painting his tag ‘Anti’ on the side of the trains running through the towns.
As in many typical coming of age dramas, Simon has to navigate between old friends and the new group he joins to further his painting dreams. The typical toxic aspects of male sociality are shown, as the graffiti groups begin battling with other groups, attacking their own, and develops hierarchies that protect leaders at the expense of other members. Anti is not revolutionary on a plot level. What it is, though, is constantly aware of how little else there is to these young men. When Simon and his friend Frede returns to Faxe by bus, they’re shown on the road, small men with the harbour and a giant looming factory behind them – somewhere that will never offer them what it offered their parents, who are shown to have their own problems.
It’s in Copenhagen that the film really visually comes to life, though. Hanging out amongst the giant empty buildings at Nordhavnen and Svanemøllen, the harbour spaces where people offloaded coal for the giant Svanemølleværket, afforded a prominent cameo in the film, the young men live in their own world, overtakes it and uses it for their own purposes. A big truck in the middle of the space is never ridden but instead climbed upon in the many fights among the group. From the roof of the place, they sit as kings on a self-made throne in a self-made small kingdom.
Most central to the plot of the film is the trainyard, though. Located next to Dybbølsbro station, right next to the Central Station, it’s where the setpieces of the film take place. The big goal, that every painter in the film works towards, is to tag an S-train, to have one’s name transported through the city, and to do that entails breaking into the yard at night and paint quickly as a group, before the police figures out what’s going on.
The crew works like a factory crew, delegating out work with each member being a part of the whole. Simon has to learn to work like a blue-collar worker, not worrying about aesthetics but about speed and efficiency – they’ve calculated they have just 12 minutes between guards coming by. Frede helps with innovative techniques for making the spray cans more effective but fails every time he has delegated a job he doesn’t want to do. In the end, the job seems impossible, the guards too hard to control, the communication amongst the group too easy to disrupt, a lack of discipline crippling each attempt.
The irony is that there’s a trainyard in Faxe as well, and it’s much less guarded than the one in the city centre. While Anti loves the capital and the worn down industrial area, it’s also certain that the victories will come from the periphery.