The following is a review of ‘Ser Du Månen, Daniel?‘ (also known as ‘Daniel‘) — Directed by Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen (co-director).
Although the Danish entry — May el-Toukhy’s outstanding film, Dronningen — was not, ultimately, nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, 2019 was a pretty great year for Danish films. Outside of the aforementioned May el-Toukhy film, last year also saw the release of other great Danish films like Michael Noer’s period piece Før Frosten and Rasmus Kloster Bro’s claustrophobic directorial feature film debut Cutterhead. Mads Brügger also released his award-winning documentary Cold Case Hammarskjold.
Seasoned Danish directors also released ambitious films, like Thomas Vinterberg’s Kursk, a drama film about the Kursk submarine disaster. Therefore Danish audiences had a lot of strong films to watch in 2019. However, the audience favorite might have been Ser Du Månen, Daniel?, a biographical hostage drama, from BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev (Män som hatar kvinnor) and actor-turned-co-director Anders W. Berthelsen (Kongekabale; SuperClásico).
Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen’s Ser Du Månen, Daniel? is based on the Puk Damsgård non-fiction book of the same name. The film tells the true story of how Danish photojournalist Daniel Rye Ottosen (played by Esben Smed) was kidnapped and held hostage by Islamic State in 2013 and 2014. Since the Danish government refused to negotiate with terrorists, his family — led by Anita (played by Sofie Torp), one of his sisters — tried to raise money without notifying the press, out of the fear that the hostage-takers might harm Daniel if international press became aware of his situation. Meanwhile, Arthur (played by co-director Anders W. Berthelsen), who also searched for American journalist James Foley (played by Toby Kebbell), attempted to negotiate Daniel’s release, on behalf of the Ottosen-family, on the ground in Syria and Turkey.
Ser Du Månen, Daniel? really consists of two very different narratives in this one film that is held together by the Arthur-character. The half of the film that focuses on Daniel, which mostly takes place in Syria (though filmed in Jordan), is thrilling from start to finish. There are these small character moments that I really like. I love the small moments shared by the many hostages, like how they do yoga or gymnastics together. I think it is a really smart choice to have Daniel vocalize that though he may be viewed as a war photographer, he doesn’t want to go to the frontlines, he just wants pictures of the day-to-day activities for Syrian civilians. Although there are great uplifting character moments here, this section of the film is upsetting and harsh. However, the section of the film that takes place in Denmark is decidedly not as strong. The parents feel underwritten, and I wish the film would have explored Sarah Hjort Ditlevsen’s character — ‘Signe,’ Daniel’s girlfriend — a little bit more. Throughout the entire runtime, however, Oplev and Berthelsen’s film is enthralling and deeply moving. Even though parts of its ending could be manipulative fabrications, the scenes are nevertheless satisfying.
Although the Arthur-character is so important for the film to work, which it does, I must admit that I don’t think that Anders W. Berthelsen was the right actor for the part. He is perfectly fine in the film, but he is also just too recognizable for Danish audiences, so he stands out in a cast made complete with many lesser-known actors. Also, although I do have some problems with the somewhat bland family subplot in Denmark, I do think that Sofie Torp’s performance is very good. I believe this was her first major film role, and, hopefully, her solid performance will earn her multiple sizable roles in other noteworthy Danish films.
Toby Kebbell’s performance as James Foley is also very memorable. I think that Kebbell has done a good job of embodying the courageousness of his character. His friendship with Daniel is one of the highlights of the film, and I hope Kebbell gets the attention he deserves for this strong supporting performance. But there can be no doubt that this absolutely is Esben Smed’s movie. Smed gives a powerful and genuinely moving physical performance, and he fully deserves the Danish Film Academy’s ‘Robert Award’ — the Danish equivalent of the Oscars or BAFTAs — for Best Actor that he won in early 2020.
Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen’s biographical hostage drama Ser Du Månen, Daniel? is genuinely great and definitely one of the best Danish films of 2019. It is a riveting and affecting Danish drama that absolutely deserves to be watched by international audiences in large part due to the outstanding performances given by Torp, Kebbell, and, especially, Esben Smed.
8 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.