#202: Terribly Happy (2007)

Cheer up, chumps

A big city  marshal arrives in a desolate country village. Meanwhile, the locals gather at the saloon, terrified by the town bully, who struts around adorning a cowboy hat, a bolo tie and a mean moustache. It soon becomes clear that the marshal and the bully are headed for a showdown. The makings of a spaghetti Western, Henrik Ruben Genz takes the conventions of the well-worn genre and creates a stylish noir, relying heavily on its offbeat, dour atmosphere for cheap thrills.

For a start, that marshal is no pious hero. Robert Hanson (Jakob Cedergren) is a Copenhagen police offer who, after suffering a nervous breakdown on the beat, is transferred to the tiny hamlet in Southern Jutland to lay low and cool off. Unfortunately for him, Robert has been transferred to one seriously weird town. Filled with people scuttling around in fear, suspicious of their fellow inhabitants roaming the deserted streets, it’s clear right from the off – except for our naive marshall, of course – that this town isn’t short of skeletons in the closet, or in ‘the bog’ lying on the outskirts.

Ruling above it all, there’s Jorgen (Denmark’s go-to menace to society Kim Bodnia), the pest who beats his wife Ingerlise (Lena Maria Christensen) and children in full view of the rest of the town, confident that nobody will stop him. Hanson, seemingly as the only voice of reason, tries to get in the way of the couple’s sticky relationship, which will only lead to more village tension, anxiety and bloodshed.

Directed and co-written by Henrik Ruben Genz, Terribly Happy tries terribly hard to squeeze a comic thriller out of his dinky little setup. The characters are intentionally stupid, but the writing isn’t necessarily smarter. The main problem of illogicality is our main man himself. Cedergren doesn’t have the figurative balls to own the screen as a bad-ass cop, not to mention his every move defying common sense, especially after we discover the cause of his breakdown. There are few signs of a broken psyche and hints of hokey existentialism, but you can stumble into the narrative potholes a mile-off.

If the film achieves anything successfully, it’s in recalling the far superior Coen brothers’ debut Blood Simple. Using a concoction of jokes and horror in a film noir vein, the movies share a dimwitted, horny lawman, a wandering wife, and a vile husband, partial to wearing cowboy hats.  Blood Simple. had visual personality and a devoted atmosphere of dirt and suspense, Terribly Happy is nothing more than a cheap imitation. A torturous watch, mercilessly eating away at it’s excessive running time and the audiences’ patience. Terrible it is. Happy it ain’t.

★★☆☆☆☆
IMDb it.

#191: Mifune (1999)

HONEYMOANERS

Mifune is the third instalment to Dogme’95, a rigid film movement set up by a Danish frat-pack who had filmmakers sign a “vow of chastity” prohibiting them from using bourgeoise luxuries and “directorial touches” like props, nondiegetic sound/effects and genre pieces. Following on from Thomas Vinterberg’s quintessentially dark Danish drama Festen and enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s gratuitous The Idiots, stripped of a directing credit, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune is a lighter, considerably commercial film in the Dogme universe. An unadorned, kooky take on the classic Hollywood rom-com adage.

After consummating the vows on the night of his wedding, lustful Copenhagen yuppie Kresten (Anders Bertholesen) gets an unexpected wakeup call with news that his estranged father has died. Previously claiming he had no family, Kresten is forced by his father’s untimely death to abandon his bride Claire and return to the dilapidated farm of his youth and his hermitic, severely autistic brother Rud (Jesper Asholt).

With the first third playing out like a more bittersweet Danish equivalent to Barry Levinson’s Rain Man, Mifune goes all a bit Pretty Woman when Kresten, unbeknownst to him, hires former prostitute Liva (Iben Hjejle) as the live-in housekeeper and nanny for UFO-obsessed Rud. With these three characters all living under the same rotting roof, it doesn’t take long for unrequited romance to blossom and friction to rise to the surface.

Filmed over a brief ten days, it’s remarkable how Kragh-Jacobsen has been able to produce some fantastic performances in Mifune. Asholt embodies the fragile character Rud with delicate perspicacity, whilst Hjejle enchants as the rational and moralistic ex-hooker.

Most impressive of all is that, even when bound to the written code of conduct, this third Dogme film is that it doesn’t feel dogmatic at all. Kragh-Jacobsen’s enforced minimal style feels intrinsic to the thematically austere story. The result is an impressive example of thrifty, barebones storytelling, but one that is ultimately forgettable as soon as the makeshift credits swipe across the screen.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.