By Mónica Delgado

The Rotterdam International Film Festival joins the “new normal”, and is developing its 50th edition online. This festival, based in the Netherlands, has characterized itself over the last few years as a space for the exhibition and discussion of a riskier cinema, with an independent profile and with young filmmakers who participate with their first works, above all.

The 2021 program maintains the line of recent years, and the direction of Vanja Kaludjercic has reinforced the focus on experimental works or works with less usual aesthetic affront. However, following the logic of programming and curation, the inclusion of Riders of Justice, by the Danish Anders Thomas Jensen as the opening film, is striking, since it breaks the appearance of the festival (which is not a bad thing) and makes it more open and fresh. But, let’s see why.

Riders of Justice, by Danish Anders Thomas Jensen, seems to be the Parasite of 2021. In other words, it is a film that uses genre cinema codes in a very ingenious way, and because of the way it is constructed in its narration and setting on stage, it appeals to capture the attention of a wider audience, with more popular distribution spaces such as Netflix and other similar platforms in vogue. And although it has a little-known Danish majority cast, the celebrated Mads Mikkelsen appears as the protagonist, who shines here in a different role.

Riders of Justice is a film that moves easily between black comedy, thriller and family drama. However, the “philosophical” premise that sustains the plot, based on the absence of causalities or the confrontation of the absence of free will or will over facts, makes the layers more complex, and manages to enrich the senses of history, freeing it from common places. Moreover, this fifth film by the young filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen (director of comedies such as Adam’s apples) is sustained by a delicate script work, with constant twists and turns, with dialogues that allow exploring the hidden sides of the characters  with not condescending physical humor, which points to an interest result. Although the beginning and end have the atmosphere of a fairy tale (Christmas) or a moral story, Riders of Justice is a work that shows a filmmaker who can cope firmly in various genres, appeal to a humor of suggestions, entanglements and take advantage of the archetypes that his characters represent: a family that tries to rebuild itself in the face of loss and where an urgent sense of vengeance in the face of injustice emerges.

Another value of Riders of Justice is that it allows you to enjoy another tonality in Mads Mikkelsen’s acting capacity, in an opposite role to the teacher he played in the recent Another Round, by Thomas Vinterberg. Here, Mikkelsen appears in constant restraint or as a bulletproof violent machine, with all that it means to move between those dramatic poles: as a non-expressive hero of action films or as a repressed and barely affective father of family dramas.

What is a film like this doing in Rotterdam? On the one hand, it could be due to the context; that is, the need to find a more friendly link with the public from streaming services in times of pandemic. It’s not the same to go to a festival to get acquainted with small works by young authors or films with an exploratory intention, or to experiment with unconventional narratives, than to have the option to watch, perhaps for the first time, online, and with more accessibility, films of this type. On the other hand, it opens itself to different cinematographic styles, that are usually the mark of festivals such as Cannes or Berlinale, but to reach other markets. Perhaps there is a need for the Rotterdam Film Festival to expand its presence beyond its usual target audiences (and markets). Or, simply, to make the opening film an indication of the celebratory, of the appreciation of a creative and powerful cinema in very difficult times.