There’s a timely eeriness to the events and themes masterfully depicted in Shorta, screening as part of the International Critics’ Week at the 2020 Venice International Film Festival. Alongside COVID-19, the year will be remembered for the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, and the subsequent momentum his untimely passing lent to the Black Lives Matter movement. Given the time it takes to make a feature film, the production of Shorta predated the horrific death of Floyd, and yet there’s something downright chilling about watching a movie in 2020 that opens with an ethnic minority being choked as he’s arrested by caucasian police officers. Its overt topicality is a coincidence, although this doesn’t diminish the visceral impact of the picture.
As Denmark reels from the apparent brutality of the arrest that left Talib Ben Hassi (Jack Pedersen) on life support, police officers Mike (Jacob Lohmann) and Jens (Simon Sears) go out on patrol, where a routine vehicle inspection draws them into the ghettos of Svalegården, a place where racial tensions are threatening to explode. Mike’s ingrained racism quickly causes the situation to extravagantly deteriorate. Fire, meet petrol.
The partnering of the empathetic Jens with the racist Mike creates a familiar good cop/bad cop trope, which although well-worn, creates an immediate accessibility for a film that has something on its mind, however broad the work’s social commentary might be. Any familiarity is cleverly deceptive, notably the feature’s opening sequence showing a police helicopter observing Svalegården’s primarily Middle Eastern population while tense, moody music plays. It’s a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a Michael Bay movie.
Although Jens and Mike could easily be thinly sketched stereotypes, Sears and Lohmann give them peaks and valleys, aided by the layers evident in the script from co-directors Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Ølholm. The performances are uniformly excellent and the pacing of the picture is fiendishly effective. The narrative comes in alternating beats, meaning any lull or moment of reflection is rapidly superseded by action that is both dazzling and distressing. Shorta (which is an Arabic word meaning police) is a police thriller that is undeniably thrilling, with a ripped-from-the-headlines relevance presented in a slick, first-rate package.
Shorta does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.