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Great Dane

A bodybuilder seeks true love in Teddy Bear

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Dennis, the protagonist of the charming Danish film Teddy Bear, showing Friday at 9:40 p.m. and Saturday at 7:25 p.m. at the Cleveland Cinematheque, is a professional bodybuilder, with enormous arms and shoulders decorated with the tattoos that are a part of his trade. With a gentle demeanor that belies his massive size, Dennis is still single at 38 and lives with his mother, the diminutive Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft), who pries into every area of his life and has a mortal fear of abandonment.

Dennis' uncle introduces the family to his new bride, whom he met in Thailand, and suggests Dennis visit the city of Pattaya to find himself a mate. Tired of unpromising dates, Dennis lies to his mother, telling her he's going to Germany for a bodybuilding competition, and books a trip to Thailand. His mother is so angry about his leaving she pouts in her bedroom for days.

In Thailand, Dennis is introduced to a series of young ladies, all willing to jump into bed with him ("Oh! You very big guy!"). Dennis, as uncomfortable with mating rituals as he is in his new tailor-made suit, shyly recoils from their advances. He realizes it isn't just sex he wants, but companionship. Fittingly, true love finds him at a gym, the place he feels most at home.

There is, however, still the matter of Mom, who refuses to answer Dennis' calls and won't approve of his new relationship. Ingrid's peevish reactions to her son's "betrayal" are maddeningly childish; Dennis responds calmly, saying only that he's sorry. He shows the persistence of a successful weightlifter, quietly building his delayed adult life and refusing to be drawn into the Oedipal web.

The theme of offspring breaking away from parental domination is apparently a favorite of director and co-writer Mads Matthiessen; it was the subject of two short films he directed, including Dennis, the basis of Teddy Bear. That film also starred Kim Kold, a soccer goalkeeper turned bodybuilder. Though not a professional actor, Kold is a remarkable physical presence with a deep voice, and he gives a nicely laconic performance as the gentle giant.

The film's rather disturbing portrayal of the Thai sex-matrimony trade is balanced by the touching romance between Dennis and Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard), a young Thai widow with a warm smile that has the power to change lives.

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