If the term “screen presence” means anything, it must mean Kim Kold. His 6-4, 300-pound frame, clad in gym-swollen muscle, fills almost every scene of the 2012 Danish feature Teddy Bear. It’s as if his mass creates a gravitational field that holds all elements of this quietly moving drama together.
Kold plays Dennis, a 38-year-old professional bodybuilder and security guard living in a small town near Copenhagen. Despite his size, Dennis is agonizingly shy and seems far from comfortable in his own stretched and heavily tattooed skin. This has everything to do with his guilt-engine of a mother, played by Elsebeth Steentoft with the appraising stare of a hawk. The two share a small house and decades of codependence: tiny mother speaks and hulking Dennis obeys, his granite face and voice burdened with shame and resignation.
You’ll know all of this already if you’re one of the several million who’ve watched the short film “Dennis” on YouTube. Writer-director Mads Matthiesen introduced the characters in that 18-minute viral-video hit of 2009, and with Teddy Bear he expands on (and at some points even repeats) the content of the earlier work.
As before, Dennis is doing his awkward, muttering best to find the love of a good woman and, with it, a way out of the suffocating quasi-childhood that is his home life. When his creepy uncle Bent shows off a young bride acquired in Thailand, Dennis books an airline ticket, lying to his mother that he’s travelling to Germany for a bodybuilding competition.
What he expects to encounter in Thailand—just how naive he is about gender relations there—is hard to read in Kold’s restrained performance. But as Dennis wanders through the outlets of Bangkok’s depressingly efficient sex-tourism industry, it soon becomes clear that he has little interest in anonymous hooker-john transactions.
A chance meeting with a radiant, down-to-earth local woman who is likewise struggling with loneliness (played by Lamaiporn Hougaard) suddenly conjures a future Dennis has always longed for. But it also sets in motion a third act that returns the action to Denmark and forces Dennis to retreat deeper into lies in an increasingly desperate attempt to salvage his hopes.
Could this heartfelt performance open up a slew of new roles for Kold down the road? It seems unlikely, given how he physically dwarfs fellow actors and makes furniture look toylike. Then again, I seem to recall a young Austrian bodybuilder who made good in the movies way back in the ’80s…
Teddy Bear screens at the Your Kontinent Festival, Richmond Cultural Centre Performance Hall, at 2:00 PM on Monday (July 22)