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Gustav Möller's Sons (Vogter)


Sons (Vogter) | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Sons (Vogter) | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

A Poison Tree: Moller Employs Wrathful Mother in Jailhouse Revenge Drama

Gustav Möller Sons (Vogter)“A man that studied revenge keeps his own wounds green,” comes to mind in Gustav Möller’s sophomore film Sons, (Vogter) a quote credited to Francis Bacon in his essay “Of Revenge.” Like his celebrated 2018 debut, The Guilty (read review), Möller creates a pressure cooker for a psychologically isolated character, this time a prison guard played by the great Sidse Babett Knudsen who seizes an opportunity to exact vengeance on a prisoner responsible for murdering her son. The plot is effectively simple, swiftly presenting the scenario of a good hearted woman reintroduced to a trauma she clearly still nurses, unbeknownst to those around her. It’s an ethical dilemma/revenge drama, which sometimes requires a certain suspension of disbelief based on what transpires.

Eva (Knudsen) is a beloved prison guard, whose positivity seems to enhance both her colleagues and the prisoners on her ward. When she happens to notice someone arriving in a newly transferred batch, she’s alarmed. Glancing through the manifest, she stops on the name Mikkel (Sebastian Bull), and watches in the shadows as he’s transferred to the high risk block. Immediately, she goes above her supervisor’s head to ask for a transfer there, citing a vague issue with a colleague. Her request is granted, but she finds the energy there is much different and more dangerous, as explained by her friendly but blunt new boss, Rami (Dar Salim). Before long, Eva has found ways to meddle with Mikkel’s comforts, which immediately gets his attention. As Eva’s actions escalate against him, a turning point occurs.

The major selling point of Sons is the commanding center point of Knudsen, and it’s not made entirely clear if she’d likely fantasized about this convenient reversal of fortune before, as if simply biding her time for an inevitable opportunity. Initially, she seems to be a bright spot in the monotonous days of those in her low-security ward, having established a daily meditation session for inmates in the gymnasium, spending time with others on their homework from education programs offered at the prison, and overall enabling others to be productive and pleasant. This carefully pruned existence is suddenly shattered when Mikkel is transferred to her prison facility, and her colleagues immediately notice a change in her demeanor.

The prison’s head (Olaf Johannessen) doesn’t bat an eye at her request to transfer to the Center Office, the high security ward for prisoners deemed beyond rehabilitation. Her new supervisor, played by Dar Salim (Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, 2023), has little to do but cast doubt on her ability to handle working on such an unpleasant ward. The film’s tensest moments arrive early, when we’re still unsure of what Eva plans to do in her close proximity to Mikkel. She tests the water with small slights, creating violent responses from him, and he ends up in solitary after he throws feces in her face. When she senses the consequences for these actions aren’t enough, she seems keen on stripping away all of his comforts, including visitation rights from his mother. Ultimately, this backfires for Eva when, during a prison raid where drugs she planted in Mikkel’s room are discovered, she uses excessive force, putting him in the infirmary for several weeks. Now, Mikkel sees an opportunity to blackmail Eva by threatening to press charges, and suddenly she’s at his mercy.

While the turntable of power roles is a compelling one in Sons, there are some matters of narrative conveniences taken with Eva’s brazen actions, considering the prison’s camera system (at the very least which would show she’d gone into Mikkel’s room where drugs were discovered just prior to the raid). Likewise how Eva is able to meet Mikkel’s demands without raising too many suspicions, such as privately letting him out into the yard while he’s in solitary, sneaking him marijuana from the evidence room, getting him into a school program, and, alas, having meditation sessions all alone with him. Her supervisor only balks at her request for Mikkel to have six-hour escorted leave to visit his mother, which is miraculously granted. While this allows for the film’s only real humanizing opportunity to parallel the feelings of Mikkel’s mother and her own, the route to getting there feels too slickly administered.

As Mikkel, Sebastian Bull is nicely revealed to be more than just a ‘hairy ape’ cliche of uncontrolled masculine rage, and Möller avoids any real kind of catharsis for either of them, both ultimately scarred by their actions, their selfishness costing them something near and dear. Ultimately, it’s a rather cold, melancholic film seeing how preventable certain miseries could be if everyone just took the time to look beyond themselves to respond with kindness. The tragedy of Eva is her ability to do that for others, and how no one can be that person for her.

Reviewed on February 22nd at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Main Competition section. 100 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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