'Smukke dreng' ('Pretty Boy') is a 1993 Danish film that is only now being released on DVD - and in a version that has eliminated the original degree of nudity. Though it is being marketed as a gay film and though the story deals with male prostitution, there is little gay sexual activity and a lot of heterosexual activity. Makes one wonder about the international editing...the story could use the original setting! Nick (Christian Tafdrup) is 13 years old, fatherless, and weary of living with a mother whose active casual sex life takes precedence over her role as a mother. He longs for the sense of belonging (especially for a father) but is made to feel 'in the way' for this mother's lifestyle. He flees to Copenhagen where he observes a gang of young men abusing an older voyeuristic man in a public restroom. He manages to obtain the man's emptied wallet and appears on his doorstep. The man, Ralph (Stig Hoffmeyer), is a professor of astronomy and when Nick appears the two find mutual ties in the stars. Nick moves in and a romance incurs. But when Ralph's girlfriend returns to town, Ralph throws Nick out and returns to his heterosexual life. Nick is hurt, as he had found in Ralph the father figure and love he so needed and he continues to stalk him.
On his own, Nick falls in with the gang he first encountered in the restroom. They are all hustlers his age and older who also steal valuables and broker them with an older man Max (Rami Nathan Sverdlin), a friend to the kids but not gay. Though Nick at first lives in the commune with the gang (one of whom is a girl Rene - Benedicte W. Madsen or 'Dicte' as she is known in the pop music field - with whom he bonds. But Max invites Nick to live with him in return for Nick's assistance with his business, a role Nick quickly masters. The gang returns to Max's store and tries to pawn some hot merchandise, which Max refuses, and this act results in Max being arrested for selling stolen goods (the gang informed on him in retribution).
Now Nick has nowhere to go except return to the rather sick atmosphere of the commune run by older Mortenson (Niels Jørgensen) who dresses in drag and enjoys abusive behavior from the gang. Nick and Rene discover each other sexually and begin the first love affair of Nick's life. But eventually Ralph calls repeatedly to try to get Nick back after his girlfriend has gone, and though Nick still feels strongly for Ralph, Rene is jealous and sets up a situation that ends tragically.
Not knowing how the original film worked without the cuts made for international distribution, one can only evaluate this DVD (which is sadly lacking in any further features to illuminate the story). The script is weak and the direction is jittery. The abusive scenes are difficult to watch and the love scenes between Nick and Rene are fairly bland. Christian Tafdrup is impressive as Nick with a face and expressions the camera loves. The remainder of the cast is adequate if not particularly appealing or vivid. In the end this is a film about the paternal needs of a child from a broken home and the ends to which he will go to seek love. Not a joyous film! Grady Harp
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