Squat 69 Review
"It's messy here and something is always happening." That something is always happening must be what sets a squat apart from the average student house, which, in the experience of this ex-student, were probably just as messy but which saw little in the way of anything actually happening. Certainly nothing like study...more the taking of drugs, the hope that someone else will put the kettle on and the playing of games of Risk that real-life generals could probably have invaded Kamchatka in the time that it took us to rally our plastic armies.
Squat 69 (Jagtvej 69) - it's a gift of a title to whoever designed the safety-pin-emblazoned cover - is a documentary on a Danish squat, Ungdomshuset, during its last months prior to its occupants being evicted by court proceedings in 2007. The four directors of this feature were allowed access to the house, to those living in it and in the events they have organised to pay for their series of appeals to the court. Concerts are organised, people sympathetic to the cause attend rallies, leaflets are printed and, all the while, the streets and pavements around Ungdomshuset are kept tidy such that its neighbours have little to complain about. And yet, no matter how much the residents of Ungdomshuset are at risk of losing their home, they continue with normal life indoors
There's an air of failure throughout Squat 69, not in the filmmakers being unable to achieve the picture of life in Ungdomshuset, but in this being the last squat in the country and of it being inevitable that an eviction order would eventually be placed on the house. By restricting itself to the fight alone, Squat 69 would be much less interesting than it is. Instead, the four directors have done well, without sparing too much of the film's running time on it, paint a portrait of those living there. Some of this is very predictable, with much talk of veganism and anarchy. The five rules of the house are just as obvious, with no violence, no hard drugs, no sexism, no hetero sexism and no racism. And yet it's probably not quite so radically different from any other shared accommodation, albeit with much more graffiti, scribbling and odd bits of wood lying around. Not quite so radical either. In Chapter 4, two gay men talk about upsetting the heterosexual men in Ungdomshuset with an explicit poster of a young punk squatting on a dildo. And by having some rules, it's not quite as anarchic as it might be, at least not when an 'anything goes' philosophy will prevent those with jobs (and income) from getting a good night's sleep.
The two most interesting characters in the film are Jacob and Anna. Jacob is interviewed throughout the film and he is, by some margin, the most articulate of those in Ungdomshuset. And the most self-aware. He is both able to talk about why it is that he stands apart from others in Ungdomshuset but why he defends it. At least to the camera, Jacob defends the house to the last, organising meetings, concerts and the distribution of leaflets and sounding reasonable in what should be expected of those in the squat. "If you dress all in black, carrying iron pipes and wearing helmets...that kind of image gets us no sympathy with the general public." His 'nude manifestation', as he describes it seems less effective, sitting naked in a lampoon of a middle-class tea part while a small crowd looks on. "The naked truth is that there are no places left for us in Copenhagen!" Anna, on the other hand, is less convinced about Ungdomshuset. Jacob believes that squatting is finding many more sympathetic ears while Anna bemoans seeing the same old faces around Copenhagen. Jacob works for the good of Ungdomshuset while Anna can see its end. She works in a kindergarten and having been offered a six-month contract, sees a way to pay off her debts, make some money and go travelling. It may not that she's glimpsed the appeal of capitalism but sees an ambition in herself that can't be contained within the walls of Ungdomshuset.
For Anna, that's probably a good thing. Everyone was evicted from Ungdomshuset in March 2007. The last two chapters in the film follow the verdict. For Anna, it was time. "So I really don't know how much longer I can go on living like this!" For Jacob, he leads a small band of pirates to a small island in Copenhagen and takes it over. He declares that it is an independent state and toys with the idea of sending a message in a bottle to Kofi Annan saying that they do not want to be members of the UN. The man in the nearby restaurant only wants to know how long they'll be staying. The police lead a raid before the afternoon turns to evening. Everyone goes home peacefully, although, on the basis of what's shown here, the police were heavy-handed in dealing with pirates who sit willingly when asked to do so and who helpfully tell the police to hit their makeshift barricade a bit harder when they seem to have trouble breaking through it.
The subtitle of the film, 500 Violent StoneThrowing Psycho Punks From Hell, is used sarcastically by the occupants of Ungdomshuset. They're generally at the forefront amongst those trying to calm tensions when protests turn to riots. Come the closing of Ungdomshuset, their mood is one of defeat mixed with a small amount of anger. However, it's hard to feel sorry for Jacob. You feel that he's canny enough to turn his experience in Ungdomshuset to matters elsewhere. Anna, though, is very different. The pity of Squat 69 is that it didn't follow up on events after the eviction. Granted, that may not have been its remit but it did such a good job of portraying its characters that one can't help but want to see more of them.
There's little about Squat 69 that stands out. Were this a more professional production, it's likely that Chapters 3 and 4, which have been shot in a dingy club and a dimly-lit basement, would have been edited out but everything, even the loud burst of white noise that comes with each new chapter fits a film about a squat in Copenhagen. Squat 69 is anamorphically presented in 2.35:1 and though it's been shot on video, often in such a manner as to suggest that interviews and scenes have been grabbed without very much preparation, it looks good. The picture is fairly sharp throughout, moreso when shots are carefully set up rather than in, for example, the nude protest, but the DVD presents this without any trouble. Colours and contrast are particularly good, all the more noticeable for the style of the film putting both at risk.
The Linear PCM track, in Danish with the option of English subtitles, is fine but with most of the film offering either interviews with those in Ungdomshuset or in the clubs or protests that follow each attempt at an eviction. It's not often one would ever say but there's a standout voiceover early in the film that describes the history of squats in Denmark but the audio is generally good throughout. There's some noise but that's fitting given that a lot of the interviews are recorded in less-than-ideal situations.
There are no extras on this DVD.
However, as a final note, Squat 69 doesn't seem to be carried by any online retailers. In spite of this, it is available direct from Beofilm, whose website is at http://www.beofilm.dk. Information on the film is available there as well as a Youtube channel dedicated to the company, where clips from their films are available to view online. Finally, to buy Squat 69, please visit the Beofilm shop directly.
Last updated: 03/07/2018 22:18:14