Review: Little Axel

Written and directed by Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge Rønning, growing up in the bohemian community at Hydra with Leonard Cohen as a stepfather, Little Axel tells a story of neglect and an overload of freedom.

Growing up within the world of fame and celebrity, with parents who give you absolute free reign and a minimum of care and attention, is almost always going to be a recipe for struggle, mental health issues or addiction. Axel Joachim Jensen received that exact cocktail of parental ambivalence and freedom, leaving him to constantly search for other things to fill that gap. You know what’s coming with this documentary but it still hits with a big wave of sadness, regret and melancholy. Diving into the different distractions that Axel employed, adventures and recklessness that just led him further away from a reliable, comfortable, caring life.

It feels somewhat similar to how The Most Beautiful Boy in the World explores the damaging impact of the public eye. However, whereas that film dives deep under the skin of its subject, Little Axel doesn’t quite break the surface. It’s working with a very short run time and while it does employ a few different voices to give variety to the perspective, it feels like there was a lot more psychology and emotional damage to discover. It’s understandable as it doesn’t seem as though Axel himself wants to start digging up the past too much, but it feels as though it’s missing another level to make it truly connect with its viewers.

Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge Rønning’s direction has a good mix of talking heads and nostalgic footage. While Leonard Cohen’s involvement is a nice way to get that first foot in the door, he doesn’t take over the focus, it remains with Axel. It does a great job of building that layered atmosphere, depicting the sadness within the entire story but again, it’s only grasping the tip of the iceberg. It has emotion and kindness but doesn’t quite manage the depth that it’s aiming for, it feels more like an introduction to a larger exploration.

Little Axel holds a genuine sadness, a life sent astray at childhood and never found its way to a real home. It’s a familiar story and unfortunately, it just doesn’t have a great deal to add to the conversation. It dips its toes into the damage such a free, untethered childhood does and how it translates into difficulties in adulthood but it isn’t quite able to capture the bigger depth that it calls out for.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Reviewed as part of Raindance Film Festival 2022

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