The surprising and moving little Danish film "Twist and Shout" (Cineplex) is set in and around Copenhagen in 1964. Part of its plot springs from that year's great, worldwide media explosion: the Beatles. It's somehow sparkling and warming to see that Denmark was conquered just as America was--that Scandinavian hearts beat as strongly to the drums and ecstatic screams on "She Loves You--Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!"
But the movie isn't just about average Danish teen-agers--or how rock 'n' roll touched their souls. The Beatles--and the camaraderie and spontaneous joy they seemed to incarnate--become an almost ironic backdrop here. The movie's central characters are friends Bjorn and Erik (Adam Tonsberg and Lars Simonsen) one of whom forms a rock 'n' roll band to cover Beatles hits. We follow both their melodic highs and melancholy lows.
At first, "Twist and Shout" suggests a crossbred Danish "American Graffiti." We see Bjorn's lamentable stage debut and his budding affair: love at first, searing sight with a Raphaelesque beauty named Anna (Camilla Soeberg).
But then the vision begins to darken. Before long, the movie twists in different directions entirely: becoming a realistic look at adolescent love and its harrowing consequences, a stark portrayal of the horrors of family life, and a bitter but clear-eyed look at social barriers, the dangers of compromise and the vulnerable bonds of friendship.
Its young heroes are a complementary pair. Bjorn is airy and outgoing. Erik, more serious, has a hellish home life: his mentally disturbed mother imprisoned in her room by her philandering husband. Bjorn is healthy and extroverted; Erik shy and morose--and so close to his mother he feels ashamed, and guilty for that shame, when her desperate attempts at hospitality alienate his guests.
Piquing the desires of the boys are two contrasting girls: rich and nasty Kirsten (Ulrikke Juul Bondo), and luminously beautiful, honest Anna. Finally, with all four, media dreams of perfect pop love crash down before the hammer blows of real life.
The four young leads--Tonsberg, Simonsen, Soeberg and Bondo--are fresh and appealing. And sometimes they're extraordinary (especially Simonsen, who conveys repression and inner turbulence with unerring tact and delicacy). Their characters become more real, and painfully sympathetic, as the story develops. Eventually, their youthful energy is counterpointed with a more disturbing side of growing up: family battles, the pressures to conform, the fragility of first love. "Twist and Shout" renders a side of adolescence most recent movies ignore: that sense of exposure many kids feel, helplessness in the face of life's maddening hypocrisies and inevitable traps.
Perhaps director Bille August and co-scenarist Bjarne Reuter (who adapted his own original novel) have simply been more careful and empathetic in trying to re-create teen-age lives. There's a Bergmanesque tinge in the film--the Nordic dark night of the soul filtered through rock's drumbeat--and also the warmth of popular art. "Twist and Shout" (Times-rated: Mature) was Denmark's greatest indigenous box-office hit to date. There's something comforting in that: You wish more teen-slanted movies here, and not just the ones based on S.E. Hinton, had similar honesty and impact.