Thursday 5 September 2013

SEX, DRUGS & TAXATION (aka SPIES & GLISTRUP) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2013 - Fear & Loathing in Copenhagen

Michael Shannon lookalike Pilou Asbæk as real-life Danish Billionaire playboy Simon Spies
Sex, Drugs & Taxation (2013) *****
Dir. Christoffer Boe
Starring: Nicolas Bro, Pilou Asbæk

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Fear and Loathing in Denmark is certainly one way to pitch Christoffer Boe's perverse, manic, absurdly hilarious and sometimes dangerous (but absolutely gratifying) belly flop into this fact-based tale charting a 20-year-long unlikely friendship that began during Copenhagen's swinging 60s. Generating its own parallel universe to the drug-and-booze-fuelled delirium, which Terry Gilliam accomplished so tremendously in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 semi-autobiographical novel, director Boe tosses us aboard his very own hallucinogenic roller-coaster ride which comprises the properties of both the English title of his film, Sex, Drugs & Taxation, and the very appropriate Danish title Spies & Glistrup.

Hunter S. Thompson's addled satirical literary meanderings were pointedly subtitled "A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream" - meanderings rendered even more satirically addled (delightfully so) by Gilliam. First serialized in Rolling Stone magazine, then published a year later in standalone hard copy form, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas celebrated a debauchery that, during the 70s, could be the only possible way to view an America that was well on the trajectory of a slow crash and burn. Boe, however, aims his satirical eye at a very specific dream that initially was not part of any sort of collective nationalistic hopes, wishes or dreams, but instead belonged to two men - their grand, mad dream which eventually became a national dream and like Thompson's American Dream, took its own fork in the road - choosing instead an eventual boulevard of broken dreams.

Just as Thompson's novel and Gilliam's film were rooted in mediated reality, so too is Boe's film - maybe even more so. Ripped from Danish headlines, Sex, Drugs & Taxation turns out to be a worthy fantasia of the strangest corporate dynasty in Denmark's history. In fact, the dreams of two men were really only one man's dream - its mastermind. The other, in retrospect and within the context of Roe's film, is a dim-bulb-ish recipient of perks born from the practical realization of the dream, his hedonistic enlightenment so to speak (and not as big an oxymoron as one might think).

The aforementioned dreamer is corporate tax lawyer Mogens Glistrup (Nicolas Bro), a paunchy, balding, bucktoothed family man with a cockeyed visage who lives vicariously through the antics of his boozing, whore-mongering chief client, best friend and crazed vacation travel magnate Simon Spies (Pilou Asbaek). Glistrup took a back-room position while Spies was the public face to all of his friend's legal chicanery. Glistrup wanted to make his best friend Spies filthy rich, but in so doing, his real desire was to crack intricate Danish tax law and find a legal way to keep Spies at a zero tax base which, he hoped, would extend to all of Denmark.

Glistrup, you see, was both a genius and most probably insane.

He believed that paying taxes was not only wrong, but that for a country to collect taxes was immoral. To be sure, Boe's film is a complete miasma of back-room business world and government bureaucracy back-stabbing and the details of this world of high finances, law and government are never simplified - they're laid out in all their complexity.

None of this, though, is ever dull since every single story beat involving corporate shenanigans and the malleability of jurisprudence is indelibly tied to some of the most outlandishly grotesque and hilarious indulgences in sex and drugs.

There are moments in the film so gloriously absurd, so sex-drenched, booze flooded and drug charged that one can do little more than soar along with a movie that dazzles us with stylistic flourishes, compelling storytelling and characters as engaging as they are reprehensible. Though one can credit director Boe and his co-writer Simon Pasternak for creating a delectably dense and intelligent screenplay, it would be remiss of me not to mention the tremendous efforts of a perfect cast. Its two leads are especially stunning. There is never a false moment rendered by either of them. What's astounding is that they must infuse their roles with bigger-than-life attributes and push certain thespian boundaries to levels that are ever-so dangerously bordering on over-the-top. They simply MUST do this or the film would NEVER work.

Pilou Asbæk as Spies drives his performance with a Mephistophelean charm that is as malevolent as it is strangely sexy and Nicholas Bro must slowly and creepily infuse his role with the mounting fervour of an anarchist crossed with a fundamentalist fascist. That we BELIEVE these men are friends, as we further believe the development of their friendship and its almost inevitable erosion and even deeper yet, that we sense love, sadness and loyalty amidst betrayal, is a testament to the genius of these two actors and to director Boe for creating an atmosphere allowing these men to take the kind of chances which, as actors, could have threatened to plunge either or both of them into an abyss they might otherwise have never fully recovered from. This kind of bravery displayed by a director and his lead actors is so rare in contemporary cinema that to see it here - so raw and dazzling, is not only sheer joy, but feels almost privileged.

Sex, Drugs & Taxation sometimes makes us feel as if it is a film that's not only set during another age, but one that might actually have been made at a time when cinema knew no boundaries and as such, proved both immortal and universal. It's a great picture, and like all great pictures, it's got shelf life branded deep into its cinematic flesh. After a lifetime of almost insanely devoting myself to cinema, I've gotten to a point where "good" is no longer "good enough". Even "excellence" sometimes bores me. I demand greatness and when I find it I feel like I've been given more than ample reason to keep expecting it (as is the case with this film), the vicious circle begins all over again for me. I continue to see one movie after another, looking, ever-searching and hoping, like that junkie who needs bigger and bigger fixes - I keep digging ever deeper, like some palaeontologist or archeologist, hoping to unearth some discovery of cultural and historical importance. I crave for pictures to instil the gooseflesh I first felt over half a century ago and that continued for quite some time then started, in the 80s (when the hapless Glistrup was at the tail end of his incarceration), when cinema felt like it was in the throes of a slow, painful death. What keeps saving me, what keeps giving mne faith are films like Sex, Drugs & Taxation.

This is a movie that'll stay with you, grow with you and be around long after you're gone from this Earth. Now THAT'S entertainment!

"Sex, Drugs & Taxation" is part of the TIFF Vanguard Series at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013. Visit the TIFF Website HERE.