Flickering Lights (eller Blinkende Lygter, på dansk) is an action-comedy about four small-time Copenhagen gangsters who give up on petty crime and jet off on a conquest to sunny Barcelona. Unfortunately for them, their car breaks down and they are forced into a depricit old farm house in the Danish woodlands. Plastering up the damaged walls, fixing the doors and throwing away their guns, the crew try to forget their incriminating past-lives and open up a family restaurant.
Although it didn’t receive much international acclaim, Flickering Lights was made to be seen by mainstream audiences (the Danish Broadcasting Corporation helped finance production). The fish-out-of-water premise is appealing, but the mixture of broad slapstick and dark, broody Scandinavian humour fails to get into stride. It’s also a completely predictable chain of events. Not because the story is derivative, worse than that, the movie starts with an infuriatingly comprehensive flash-forward into the future, where any potential unexpected thrills are abolished.
If you know anything about semi-mainstream Danish movies, you’ll be aware of the name Anders Thomas Jensen. A prolific screenwriter (for works such as the Dogme 95’s Mifune and the Kiera Knightley-starring period drama The Duchess), Flickering Lights marked his venture from pen to camera. It’s an ambitious directing debut, but it’s left in the shadows of another Danish gangster comedy from the previous called In China They Eat Dogs. Unsurprisingly, Jensen is credited as writer there too.
With four acting heavyweights from across Danish television & film, the performances and character dynamics are where Flickering Lights excels. Nightwatch‘s Ulrich Thomsen is the hilariously boisterous Peter who, after being shot in the stomach in the first ten minutes of the movie, spends days locked away in the farmhouse’s pantry, trying to go cold turkey from his coke addiction. Nikolaj Lie Kaas is the young dreamer Stefan who is distraught after abandoning his Copenhagen-based girlfriend. Best of the bunch, Mads Mikkelsen pops up as the tempestuous Arne, a brawler with a penchant for firearms. Lastly, there’s Søren Pilmark as the measured and paternally instinctive crew leader Torkild who tries to keep them all from boiling point. The four have a great chemistry together; an effervescent masculinity which makes Flickering Lights a just-about bearable bromance movie.
With a scattered shower of laughs and some decent characterisation, Flickering Lights is saved from being a total corn-fest. Just like the dishes the four gansters-cum-restauranters end up serving, the film isn’t as sweet and delicious as it’s ingredients would imply.
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.
Tickling your trotters.
The film industry is fucking massive. There’s no other way of putting it, really. I’f there’s anything this ‘film a day’ project has taught me, is that 366 movies a year doesn’t even skim the surface of the brilliant classics, forgotten gems, and blockbuster movies across the world. A small piece of the pie, but certainly a filling one.
Here’s another Danish for you to sink your pastry adoring faces into. Unlike the breakout success of Nightwatch a couple of films back, In China They Eat Dogs is a broader action-comedy which was never released in English-language cinemas. A shame that, as it’s bloody great.
A tale of competitive brotherhood, In China They Eat Dogs is a refreshing take on the heist genre, think along the lines of the Danish Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and you’re not far off.
Filled with a great deal of heart, action and with two compelling performances from Danish regulars Kim Bodnia and Dejan Cukic, regardless of the silly name, In China They Eat Dogs is the best Danish comedy you’ve never seen.
Put the review in your ears: