Film review: Terribly Happy (MFF 2009)

Terribly Happy
Fine & Mellow Productions

STARRING Jakob Cedergren, Lene Maria Christensen, Kim Bodnia, Lars Brygmann, Anders Hove
WRITTEN BY Henrik Ruben Genz and Dunja Gry Jensen based on the novel by Erling Jepsen
PRODUCED BY Tina Dalhoff, Thomas Gammeltoft
DIRECTED BY Henrik Ruben Genz

SHOT BY Jørgen Johansson
EDITED BY Kasper Leick
MUSIC BY Kaare Bjerkø
DISTRIBUTED BY Oscilloscope Pictures

Screened 2009-09-29

Screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival 2009

A morose screw-up policeman finds himself demoted to the position of Sheriff in a very distant, very tiny bog town, far far from the hustle and bustle of Copenhagen. There is nothing to see over the totally flat landscape in any direction. The town’s inhabitants – the same eight or so that we seem to keep running into – have been warped into virtual madness by the desperation the locale has imposed (though the landscape didn’t feel quite oppressive enough for me). Immediately upon arrival the town’s victimized skank is at his doorstep and draws Mr. Sheriff into an intimate little triangle with her violent counterpart. Describing where things go from here is unnecessary because we already know, but also because the film features some truly bizarre twists, especially involving character action and motivation. The film is competent and enjoyable enough… maybe… a bit… yet it’s a surprise to me to have learned that this curious deadpan would-be thriller is Denmark’s entry into the Academy Awards; this year’s Von Trier film must’ve been ineligible (I suppose genital mutilation never does go over well).

Claiming that your film is like Twin Peaks because it features middle-of-nowhere kooks is approximately the same as calling your work Kafkaesque based on the sole criteria that you find it to be “absurd;” Terribly Happy is nothing like Twin Peaks (and the Danish Twin Peaks Ripoff was more successful claimed by Von Trier, anyway, 15 years ago with Riget). I digress. The only comment I have to make is this: the film progresses along a through line which snakes in ways one (at least I) will not expect, but that is not to imply it is a positive step into uncharted territory… it’s more like an improv exercise led by a man with a singular, fairly misunderstood sense of humor. Also it’s based on actual events, the sort that make a noir of us all.

written by David Ashley