Bakerman is an engaging watch, despite questionable characterization and an occasional imbalance between its different plot elements.
Your first instinct when unhappy with your lot in life may not be to lash out at random immigrants for perceived slights, but then again, you’re not Jens in Bakerman, a new drama out of Denmark. Jens is middle-aged, overweight, employed at a bakery where even the simple joys of breadmaking have been taken away from him by a penny-pinching new boss. His life is a series of notches in the L column, and he’s inches away from losing it completely.
On the surface, he associates most of his problems with the increasing immigrant population that surrounds him, clearly a reflection of the changing Danish demographics. His boss and the men who bully him on the street all represent a culture that is alien to Jens, and that he sees as responsible for the rapidly changing society in which he struggles to adapt. He even goes so far as to wander around town, Liam Neeson style, looking for Muslim men causing trouble so that he can attack them while still maintaining his perception of himself as the good guy.
But in the end, he fails to realize that the majority of his issues are problems of his own making. Although his work situation is admittedly suboptimal, he doesn’t make it any better by stubbornly clinging to the past. He chooses to isolate himself socially and withdraw from the relationships that could improve the quality of his life.
It’s only when, while upon a would-be vigilante mission to punish foreigners, he encounters a young Muslim woman legitimately in need of saving. He is given an opportunity to play the hero, and the two of them develop a bizarre sort of relationship, despite a significant age gap and the clear power imbalance between the two. I can’t really tell if we are meant to find their relationship eccentric but charming, and while it’s not quite cringeworthy, it is a bit strange and perhaps not as sweet as they may have intended it to be.
Jens is an interesting character, played adeptly by Mikkel Vadsholt, who isn’t what one might call likable but slowly comes out of his shell in his scenes with Mozan, the young woman he has taken under his wing. His overall story arc, although a bit “woe is me” when viewed from an outsider’s perspective, certainly seems resonant and timely in a world that is in many ways unrecognizable from previous decades. Men like Jens are increasingly finding themselves lost and out of sorts due to their inability to adapt.
The fact that Jens embarks on what he would clearly like to be a killing spree of young Muslim men is certainly not ideal – I think the movie partially saves itself by not glamorizing Jens’ actions or making them something that the audience is supposed to root for, but unfortunately there will be men out there who watch this film and see it as something of a revenge fantasy.
The strangest thing about it though is that despite his vigilante activities seeming to be at the center of the film, they switch gears and move into a quasi-romantic plot with Mozan fairly quickly. It seems as though the film is split between these two elements, and neither is developed well enough to stand on its own. For Mozan’s part, I dearly wish that her character had been explored in greater detail – as it stands, she’s fairly one-note and seems to exist only to further the arc of Jens. When in reality, a young Muslim girl who has been abused and flees from her family deserves to occupy a larger, more purposeful place in the narrative.
I think that at its heart, Bakerman has important points to make about men like Jens and their position in society. But when it comes to the vigilante elements of the film, I don’t know if it quite sticks the landing, and the tonal shifts that occur throughout are occasionally puzzling. Still, it’s a mostly engaging watch, and the dramatic changes in the loyalty we feel for our protagonist as new information is revealed is clever and deftly handled.