Screen Daily: ‘Copenhagen Does Not Exist’: Rotterdam Review

By Neil Young / SCREEN DAILY



A man looks back over an intense relationship in this Danish drama written by Eskil Vogt

Dir: Martin Skovbjerg. Denmark. 2023. 98mins

Norway’s Eskil Vogt is currently riding high thanks to his two 2021 titles: supernatural drama The Innocents — which he wrote and directed, following well-received 2014 debut Blind — and Oscar-nominated The Worst Person in the World, which he co-wrote with its director Joachim Trier. He now returns as the scriptwriter of Martin Skovbjerg’s second feature Copenhagen Does Not Exist, a sombre, intriguingly fragmented study of an ill-fated love-affair between two sympathetic twentysomethings in the Danish capital.

 Offers an immersively satisfying aesthetic experience

Premiering in the Big Screen competition at Rotterdam, this immaculately-rendered adaptation of Terje Holtet Larsen’s 1998 novella Sander should have no difficulty earning further festival berths; Vogt’s reputation could also secure theatrical distribution around Europe and beyond. Female lead Angela Bundalovic’s current prominence in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Netflix six-parter Copenhagen Cowboy may also boost the film’s visibility.

Her less experienced co-star is Jonas Holst Schmidt, who goes by ‘Jonas Smith’ as the vocalist of Danish indie-rock/alt-pop trio Blaue Blume and puts in a compelling and nuanced turn in a demanding role. He is front and centre nearly throughout as Sander, a slackerish, self-dubbed “ex-writer”. A chance encounter with wistful, vaguely troubled Ida (Bundalovic) quickly leads to an all-consuming relationship.

The pair seldom leave their flat; Ida breaks off almost all contact with friends and family. This isolation is only glancingly mentioned in the film, but is evidently the inspiration behind the somewhat oblique title. Then again, the screenplay emphasises how impossible it is for any outsider to know exactly what transpired between Ida and Sander. Everything is refracted through a subjective prism: the entirety of the couple’s time together is presented solely from Sander’s retrospective perspective – and it quickly becomes apparent that his recollections are, at best, somewhat unreliable.

Sander looks back at his weeks with Ida not on his own volition, rather at the behest of her domineering father Porath (Zlatko Buric) and her brother Viktor — the latter played with a creepy, swaggering hauteur by Vilmer Trier Brogger, co-lead of Skjovberg’s previous feature, Sticks and Stones (2018). Making use of Porath’s temporarily vacant city-centre apartment, he and Viktor come to a financial arrangement with Sander whereby they video-interview him over several sessions with a view to solving the mystery of Ida’s recent disappearance.

This framing device never quite makes convincing narrative sense. As fleshily incarnated by Buric — the Croatian-Danish veteran who in December won the European Film Academy’s Best Actor prize for Triangle of Sadness and is also to be seen in Copenhagen Cowboy— Porath seems to be some kind of shady gangster type, but the role remains rather underwritten. Likewise, the nature of the apparently unwholesome bonds between father and daughter, and brother and sister, remains obscure.

It’s to the credit of the performers (especially Holst Schmidt and Bundalovic) that we can overlook such distractions and instead concentrate on the emotional core of the picture. Sander’s trawl through his self-deluding memory ranges from the transcendently joyful to the harrowingly painful. This spectrum shades decisively towards the traumatic in the film’s second half, when the extent of Ida’s mental and physical problems becomes evident. But even here, Vogt and Skjovberg resist the temptation to fill in every detail; while this evasiveness may frustrate some viewers, Copenhagen Does Not Exist ultimately offers an immersively satisfying aesthetic experience.

Such a mosaic-like enterprise inevitably relies heavily on the editing; here the team of three cutters (including Olivier Bugge Coutte, whose Trier collaborations include The Worst Person in the World) rise amply to the challenge across 98 brisk minutes. Boosted by the subtle contributions of colorist Hannibal Lang, Jacob Moller’s widescreen digital cinematography impresses from the first shot — Sander seen from below, disoriented in a hectic urban space — and  is gracefully imbued with the depth and sensuality of old-school 35mm celluloid. Adding further classy layers of poetic emotional impact are Carlos E Garcia’s nuanced sound-design and the extensive (but never-intrusive) score by Danish electronic-oriented trio AV AV AV, of which director Skjovberg is himself a member.

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Film info

Film title

Copenhagen Does Not Exist


Martin Skovbjerg


Psychological drama




EUR 2.1M