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You Are Not Alone (1978)

Art House & International movie directed by Ernst Johansen and Lasse Nielsen

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Beautiful slice of life love story

  • Jun 22, 2007
Rating:
+5
Pros: Acting, story, music

Cons: The end is a little abrupt

The Bottom Line: This is a gay teen love story to be blunt. If this doesn't offend you, this is a fantastic film. If it does, avoid.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

You Are Not Alone (a Danish film: Du er ikke alene) is a little bit My Bodyguard and a little bit Harold and Maude. Please remember while I review this that the film was made in 1978.

To a large extent, this film could only be made in Denmark and it is questionable that the film could be made today in any country. The leitmotiv of the film is teenage sexuality in general but gay in particular. If this makes you uncomfortable, then it is best to stop reading here because I have to be frank if I am to review the film properly.

The events take place in the couple of months before the end of the term at an all boys’ boarding school, not the posh sort but one for children with either troubled pasts or troubled presents or both. The simplest way to define it is that boys will be boys and that some boys will go a bit farther. Principally the film focuses on Bo (Anders Agenso) a teen of about fifteen and Kim (Peter Bjerg) the not quite p*besc*nt (it really bothers me that I cannot use this word because it is apparently considered vulgar) son of the headmaster. It is obvious from the beginning that Bo is taken with Kim, but at first Kim seems to be more involved with hero worship—this changes organically to something far deeper.

Since the boys are all relatively troubled, the headmaster is a martinet with seemingly no heart. He is far more German than Danish given that all things have an order and the order must be followed because if it isn’t then chaos reigns. The problem is that near chaos reigns anyway. Inmates run the prison/asylum/boarding school because they always outnumber the guards/orderlies/teachers. Still the relationship between them is not completely adversarial. In a film like this, there has to be a protest of some sort. One of the more troubled students gets fed up with the strictness and pastes Playboy and other naked female photographs on all walls of a bathroom. He is expelled, but a rather large group of boys leave classes in protest. This is 1978, ten years after what the French call l’esprit de 68 (the spirit of 68) when mass student protests took place in many large European cities, so this kind of protest has recent analogs to back it up. I will not go further for those who want to avoid knowing if this succeeds and at least one other not-quite-twist works.

Plot spoiler warning

The film is a little bit Harold and Maude based on the age difference between the boys and the way music functions in the film. The age difference isn’t January-December as HM is typically described, more like January-March, but the age difference is significant in reality because of the late tween and full teen and the differences in their bodies (like it or not both Harold and Maude were well past puberty). In HM Cat Stevens provides fantastic original music that sets the mood rather than describe the plot. Sebastian does the same thing for You Are Not Alone. For each film the music is folk and anti-establishment on one level or another. Harold and Maude is the only film that is comparable that was made before You Are Not Alone.

In a similar vein, the Danish film is like My Bodyguard. The general plots are different, but the relationship between Clifford (Christopher Makepeace) and Ricky (Adam Baldwin) has many facets of the relationship between Bo and Kim. They both start out as a somewhat tenuous friendship that develops into an emotional attachment. It is worth noting that My Bodyguard was released two years after You Are Not Alone.

There are three different aspects of sexuality here. The first is the most common: teenage boys pining for girls and using porn as an alternative (the porn alternative is not as common necessarily, especially in 1978, but it is never the less part of the equation for many if not most). The second is only slightly less common: boys not yet in puberty talking about sex as best they can with their relatively limited knowledge. The last is the engine for the movie: the exploration of sexual feelings toward the same gender—this is not just limited to Bo and Kim.

I said above that the film could only be made in Denmark and there are hallmarks beyond just the obvious. In an American film, there would be scenes of guilt and fear followed by or coequal with rejection by many and a rescue of sorts by the one or the few. Denmark and the rest of Scandinavian culture is far more open about sex and sexuality that any other place on the planet and tolerance of difference is likewise open. The open expressions of affection between Bo and Kim do not bother the other boys in the school. The frankness and openness of these expressions I think would be foreign to any American watching it today (gay, straight, or other). The expressions drive the movie, but they do not provide the conflict or shame you would typically expect. For this reason, I don’t believe that You Are Not Alone to be a coming of age film—the transition from hero-worship to boyfriend is too smooth. This is a slice of life movie.

The protest provides most of the excitement, but it is never violent. The boys maintaining it (and they seem to make up a bit more than half the school) are idealists as you would expect teenagers to be and have the one goal of getting the headmaster to rescind the expulsion of one of their own. But there is one more conflict that occurs at various moments during the main storyline that serves more as symbol than not.

A group of, essentially, hooligans the boys call farmers periodically pester the boys who leave the grounds of the school (typically as they are going to or coming from the stores in the village). This sets the school as a kind of quasi-idyll while the world beyond is without guardrails. Older boys and girls (it is impossible to call the men and women because their antics are still too childish to rise above the level of just teen angst) from the town and nearby farms consider the boys in the school to be spoiled and at one point call them communists—the word is used a couple of times and is insult as opposed to anything truly political. The climax of the animosity between the boys at the school and the hooligans occurs when Kim sees Bo being bullied in the forest (a true idyll). Kim runs back to the school and a huge mass of boys come running to the rescue. There are two ways to look at this that are not mutually exclusive: the boys come to rescue one of their own and this is shows a level of acceptance that would be totally foreign to Americans.

The end is beautiful but abrupt. At the end of the term the boys put on a play ostensibly covering the Ten Commandments. The announcement is that the boys have picked the six that are most relevant to the contemporary society (we never learn what they are). At the end of the play, a boy who is an amateur filmmaker shows a short film called “Love each other as you love yourself.” The Golden Rule shows Bo and Kim hugging and kissing gently. At first I was put off by this because, as an American of the twenty-first century, I was expecting a reaction. The more I thought about it the more I realized that the reaction didn’t matter at all. This slice of life ended with a tender moment that summed up the emotions and ideals the film kept going throughout.

As a comparison, I was disappointed by Y tu mama tambien because the ending wasn’t really necessary. After a perfect summer these best friends split and see each other later with something akin to dislike and distrust than anything else. If the film had ended where the perfect summer came to an end, then I wouldn’t have been quite so disappointed. You Are Not Alone ended a slice of life movie in exactly the right place.

I highly recommend this film. If honest sexuality between teens and even preteens bothers you, you would be best to skip it even though it is a fantastic and not sappy love story.

Recommended:
Yes

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More You Are Not Alone (1978 movie) reviews
review by . April 08, 2009
Ah, "You Are Not Alone", a film notorious among a certain group for a scene of two boys showering together. Yes, it certainly has that, but thankfully it also has much, much more.    My first thought with this film was that it was rather like Dazed & Confused - Criterion Collection, except Danish and gay. Otherwise there are a LOT of similarities. You several story threads, some drug use, plenty of music and lots of sexuality, in addition to a huge supply of long-haired 1970's …
review by . March 02, 2008
"You Are Not Alone"    The Taboo of the Times    Amos Lassen    Rewatching "You Are Not Alone" last night made me realize how much gay life has really changed. The Danish movie made in 1978 deals with an aspect of society which was a taboo and considered quite scandalous when it was first released. It is about life in a boarding school in Denmark and focuses on the conflict of the old fashioned views of the headmaster as opposed to the …
review by . December 14, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
DU ER IKKE ALENE (You Are Not Alone) is a 1978 Danish landmark film written by Lasse Nielsen and Bent Petersen and directed by Nielsen and Ernst Johansen. When the period during which this film was made, a time when gay theme movies were all but verboten, this little film is a brave, delicate, tender, unpretentious tale of the bonding, both emotional and physical, that occurs between two young boys in a boarding school in Denmark. The story develops slowly and insidiously, a fact that makes some …
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About this movie

Wiki

Unflinchingly honest and boundlessly lyrical, the exploration of sexual awakening in You Are Not Alone was a turning point in world cinema. At a Danish boy’s boarding school in the late 1970s, Bo and Kim are naive young classmates, whose friendship blossoms into a childlike love affair. When their friend is expelled for a prank involving lewd posters, the student body bands together to strike against the school and its authoritarian headmaster. Lasse Nielsen and Ernst Johansen’s classic film is a groundbreaking meditation on innocence, rebellion and love.
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Details

Screen Writer: Lasse Nielsen, Bent Petersen
DVD Release Date: June 27, 2006
Runtime: 90 minutes
Studio: Tla
First to Review
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