Danish filmmaker Mads Matthieson directs first-time actor and former bodybuilder Kim Kold in Teddy Bear a film about a man hard in muscle, soft at heart and weak in confidence. Matthieson sweetly juxtaposes the rough and the cuddly to tell an unusual but hope-filled story about different types of love: family, romantic and cross-cultural. The film screened on opening night at the Victoria Film Festival.
Kold demonstrates natural acting chops as 38-year-old Dennis, a bodybuilder whose overwhelming size makes every person and object close to him look like a joke. What makes him a “teddy bear” can only be seen outside the gym. Dennis’s awkward interactions with women, garnering laughs from the audience, tell us that he’s never had a girlfriend. He also lives alone with his mother, Ingrid — a fragile looking, petite woman who he engulfs with every hug. Actress Elsebeth Steentoft is very convincing as a mother with a dysfunctional attachment to her son. Their bond is strong but holds Dennis back from developing a life of his own.
Frustrated by his local dating efforts, Dennis leaves his Copenhagen suburb for Thailand, with tips from his uncle who married a Thai woman. Dennis’s naivety is challenged when he arrives. After some uncomfortable encounters with women trying to offer their “services,” he finds solace in a familiar setting — a gym — and with a woman to whom he feels genuinely connected. Lamaiporn Hougaard, also making her acting debut, plays Dennis’s wide-eyed love interest, Toi. The ease in which their relationship progresses reminds us that the love we seek isn’t hard to cultivate when we find the right person. We follow Dennis as he pursues a future with Toi while resolving his complicated relationship with his mother.
As the film hits its mid-point, it’s easy to forget that Teddy Bear is a movie and not a documentary of real events. Each moment, whether tense or joyful, feels authentic, and makes the audience wonder if these actors are, in fact, playing a true version of themselves. Matthieson told Indiewire in an interview that he chose a cast mainly of non-actors because “you get a great deal of authenticity when you work with real people in real environments.”
Teddy Bear is Matthieson’s first feature film, which he co-wrote with Martin Zandvliet, and was an official selection at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Matthieson’s short film, “Dennis,” also starring Kold and Steentoft in the same roles, was the inspiration.