REVIEW: Så Længe Jeg Lever (2018)

Danish Theatrical Release Poster – Nordisk Film

The following is a review of Så Længe Jeg Lever — Directed by Ole Bornedal.

Ole Bornedal’s Så Længe Jeg Lever is a Danish biographical film about John Mogensen (played by Rasmus Bjerg), a Danish musician whose immensely popular songs turned him into somewhat of a cult figure in his native country. The film is a dramatization of Mogensen’s entire life that takes us from his childhood, through his days as a member of the vocal quartet group ‘Four Jacks,’ onto his breakthrough as a solo artist, and up until the last days of his life where he drank himself to death.

When I was a kid, Mogensen’s tunes were often heard in my parents’ apartment. Already when I was very young, I was very familiar with the beloved musician’s classic hits like “Der er noget galt i Danmark,” and “Så længe jeg lever,” (the song that this biopic is appropriately named after). I knew him almost only as this cult figure — a beloved big-bellied singer who had always sported his characteristic long beard.

Bornedal’s biographical drama portrays him as a multi-faceted person and artist. In parts of the first act, we see Mogensen as something resembling a child prodigy, who later — through unreal and entirely imaginative conversations between himself as a child and himself as a drunken star — personifies his ambition, his perfectionism, and his love of music. When Mogensen has nowhere to go but up, these conversations bring a spotlight on his own battle with his inner demons that had haunted him throughout his time as an artist.

Mogensen was a perfectionist who was uncomfortable getting in front of a crowd, but who still had an insatiable appetite for the stage. Mogensen struggled with his inner demons, and numbed himself with copious amounts of alcohol, with the hope that he may get ‘in the zone’ — that intangible and indefinable high that he gets when everything is just right. When everything is in harmony even the biggest crowds are drowned out by that high that he sometimes achieved on stage.

Nothing was enough for the beloved artist who felt decidedly under-appreciated once his vocal quartet group split up and his music suddenly did not fit the sound of the times. Mogensen, of course, found another sound — a sound that has made him one of the cult figures of Danish music of the late 20th century.

Bornedal handles it all very well. The film perhaps goes on for a bit too long, and although the aforementioned imaginative conversations could derail the film, both Rasmus Bjerg and Harald Kaiser Hermann — who plays the child version of John Mogensen — handle these scenes very well.

Nevertheless, Hermann’s character does become some kind of narrative device, and it absolutely can be received as nothing more than a cheap trick to add a sense of motivation to a sad artist. There are also few imperfections in various places — for example, I think the lip-sync could have used a little bit more attention in some scenes — but, as a whole, Bornedal has delivered a strong Danish biopic that is sure to delight the target audience.

For obvious reasons, a film about someone as colorful and popular as John Mogensen would have fallen apart if the central role was not played by someone who could handle this rise and fall story to perfection. And, well, Rasmus Bjerg is astounding. He looks, sounds, and feels like John Mogensen. Bjerg becomes the cult figure over the course of the film. It is a spectacular performance in a story with a very tragic ending. But even though it may, on the surface, be a sad story of a drunken artist, Bornedal’s film is an imperfect but very entertaining tribute to a true cult figure who loved his family.

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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