Sunday, March 6, 2011

Terribly Happy

I don't know exactly why I chose to watch this movie.  It's Danish, which doesn't necessarily indicate anything about its quality, but it definitely means subtitles.  Maybe it is the movie poster; I like the idea of somebody with a gun being "terribly happy" (or "frygtelig lykkelig," in Danish).  It's not like I saw commercials for it.  It was released in Denmark in '08 and eventually got limited release stateside in early 2010, but it was never anything that got much buzz.  Whatever my reasoning, I watched it.

Robert (Jakob Cedergren) is a police officer from Copenhagen that had some sort of mental breakdown on the job, and was sentenced to police South Jutland as a way to both punish him and give him time and space to straighten up his act.  Think of this as punishment along the lines of sending a New York cop to Appalachia for a spell.  I don't know if Denmark has hicks, but if they do, they live in South Jutland.  This small town is insulated and about as backwoods as Denmark gets, so the city smart cop is immediately bored out of his mind.  The locals aren't very friendly to outsiders, so Robert focuses on doing his time until he is allowed to return to Copenhagen, where his child and estranged wife still live.  This town is so dull, the only outstanding trait it has is its proximity to a bog.

Now, small town life carries with it small town gossip, so when the married Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen) starts flirting with Robert, the town talks.  Ingerlise and her husband, Jorgen (Kim Bodnia) were also outsiders, but now they more or less fuel the local gossip.  Jorgen is the big man in town, bullying anyone who gives him flak, and that includes beating Ingerlise on occasion.  Robert wants to help her (and do, um, other things to her), but that would require bringing in police from the city to deal with the paperwork and whatnot; nobody in town, not even Ingerlise, wants to speak to outsiders.  After a few weeks of being frustrated by how things are done in town (they "handle" everything on their own, and expect Robert to not file any reports) and ignoring Ingerlise's bruises, Robert sneaks into her home late at night to check on her.  Jorgen is passed out on the stairs and Ingerlise is bloodied in bed.  He goes to her and takes her away from that awful town, says goodbye to police work, and the two begin a new life somewhere else they start getting it on.  Eww.  But then, Jorgen stirs and calls for Ingerlise.  For whatever reason, she doesn't want to keep absolutely quiet at that moment, so Robert puts a pillow over her face to muffle the sound.  He does a top-notch job of that; when he pulls the pillow away, Ingerlise is dead.  Now what?  Does he frame Jorgen (who looks astonishingly like Tom Sizemore), or take the rap himself?  How can he convince the town doctor of his story and stay out of jail?  Just how much does this small town know about him?  Is this something that can be "handled" by the town?

Normally, I hesitate to mention when a major character dies in my plot summaries, but Ingerlise's death is what propels the plot forward in Terribly Happy, so I think it's okay to point it out.  This is a pretty okay movie, although not particularly special.  The acting is uniformly fine and the direction by director/co-writer Henrik Ruben Genz was fine.  When I stumble upon foreign films, they are usually atypical of American cinema, but there was no overly stylized work here.  This is just a movie that tells a story.

The story, when it gets going, is actually pretty good.  I thought the first half-hour was dreadfully dull, but the script ended up going in a vastly different direction than I anticipated.  And I mean that in a good way.  This could have been a Danish wannabe-noir, where the heartless femme fatale convinces the innocent sap to kill her husband --- and that probably would have been an okay movie.  Instead, it becomes a story with layer upon layer of lies, and when everybody's motives are finally made clear, everything clicks into place.  Unfortunately, the best parts of the movie are the ones that shouldn't be spoiled by me, so you can just take my word for it.

It's too bad that the acting and directing were so basic.  The more I think about the story's twists, the more I like it.  Maybe the inevitable success of the American The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake will spark interest in remaking other Scandinavian films, like this one.  This could be an awesome Coen Brothers-style drama in the right hands.  But that's neither here nor there.  The boring beginning and blah acting and directing keep this interesting story from truly succeeding, but it's still worth a gander.

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