Apr 13, 2023
Mazen Haj Kessem
Mazen Haj Kessem
Hassan El Sayed, Abdulrahman Chabaani, Silja Ellemann Kiehne, Mette Hansen
After more than a decade of austerity, huge swingeing cuts to the public purse and a massive increase in the cost of living; fuelled by gross economic mismanagement and the resultant hike in interest rates; you might think that here in Britain the idea of a Nanny State is a thing of the past. Still, even under this extreme duress, the Social Work and Youth Care sectors are still working their hardest to ensure the best choices are being made and the best possible care is being provided to those in the most vulnerable circumstances. At the heart of all of this is, of course, the children but cases such as those of Baby P, Star Hobson and Arthur Lubinjo-Hughes keep serving to illustrate how often the state is getting wrong the decision of whether or not to intervene. In Scandinavia, however, things obviously run a little differently.
Mazen Haj Kassem's new short film, My Toy hopes to highlight the role of the state, in this case Denmark, when intervening in the lives of what they deem to be vulnerable children. There is a lot for Kassem to cover, taking on such a vast and highly charged topic to discuss, and so to fit everything he wants to say into his short eight and a half minute film he has used the device of a soft cuddly toy to help him express the myriad feelings, considerations and viewpoints involved.
Salem, Sarah and Mette are on their way to meet their respective parents. Previously separated and held within state run institutions the children are now being ferried to reunite with their parents to see if enough has changed to allow them to go home. On the way, Sarah (Kiehne) hands her cuddly toy koala to Salem (Chabaani) who holds onto it tightly during his consultation. Salem's father (El Sayed) is a practicing Muslim who desperately wants to reunite his family and possibly re-emigrate back to their home country. He speaks Arabic to his son and espouses his views on how Danish life is changing, softening and conflicting Salem, sometimes with anger or a misogynistic bent.
Sarah's mum (Hansen) is there on her own; her father is nowhere to be seen in this relationship as he is possibly dealing with drug issues elsewhere. Sarah shows no emotion and doesn't engage with her mother, even when offered a gift for her birthday, and in the end all she wants to do is get away from the situation. With both Sarah and Salem feeling stressed in the company of their parents they carry out a previously concocted plan to head to the toilet, meet in the corridor and use that sweet cuddly toy as a means of escape.
Nobody came to see Mette.
Kassem sets up his scenario well in My Toy and it's easy to see right from the start that he knows what he is trying to get from this production. The visual style, colouring, editing and shot selection all integrate into a very clinical setting where people know they're being observed – sometimes judged – and this helps to keep the real life tension within the story and the performances. The children all do a good job but real credit goes to Hassan El Sayed and Mette Hansen as their parents, who both bring a real depth of background to their characters and to the emotion in their portrayal.
There's a lot of good work going on in My Toy with the music from Sune Kolster also deserving a special mention due to its gentle but sombre tone. The film does suffer somewhat from the use of broad brushstrokes and an obvious bias which can leave it feeling very judgemental of the people it portrays, especially in the language of the end title statistics, but that's what comes from dealing with such a highly charged topic. Kassem has worked hard to keep things clean, professional and to the point and in that regard he has succeeded admirably.