Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three films by Anders Thomas Jensen

The Danes seem like a quirky bunch. It seems every time I watch a film from Denmark it always has this odd undercurrent running through it (I have read that they have been judged the "happiest" country, whatever that means and however it is that is determined). If you judge them based on the work of director Anders Thomas Jensen then quirky is definitely the case. Jensen's three most recent films are off kilter and interesting with Flickering Lights, The Green Butchers and Adam's Apples.

Jensen's Flickering Lights from 2000 is a wonderfully titled comedy-drama about some not so bright criminals who go on the lam to escape from big city thugs in some remote Danish location. Combine the out of their element group with eccentric locals and the criminals are baffled by their surroundings in life changing ways. Flickering Lights is chock full of a favorite topic of Jensen's--men in unfamiliar places that leads to disorienting levels of humor for them and us.

I saw The Green Butchers in Seattle in 2003 and I remember enjoying this dark comedy about but
chers who find a very tasty meat product--human! Like other Jensen films there are a lot of offbeat people in the cast. It's a funny film yet it is played so dry and deadpan that the laughter comes from the uncomfortable places where you are unsure of your empathy for these people (it is a film about butchers serving human meat after all). It's the kind of film where you like these characters despite yourself. I tend to like films with that kind of attitude.

The same thing applies to the third of CineRobot's Jensen mini-fest--Adam's Apples. Adam is the most unlikable of any of Jensen's collection of characters. He's a Nazi skinhead just out of prison who moves into a church doubling for a halfway house in rural Denmark. Adam only wants to corrupt the uber-optimistic priest into renouncing God. Adam is tempted to go back to his violent ways while he wreaks abuse on the other misfits at the church. Not very likable, right?

Jensen does something interesting with Adam that other filmmakers attempt (but often fail at)--he uses Adam's possible redemption as the main positive trait to draw us to him as events unfold. Adam's comic bewilderment at some of the things said and done at the church as he slowly begins to change is pretty entertaining (he lashes out with fists, the boot or harsh words but it's still kind of funny in a dark, Danish way).

If you are in the mood for some Scandinavian comedy check out Anders Thomas Jensen and one of these three films he wrote and directed. He has also written a bunch of screenplays including dark gems Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and After the Wedding. I think I'd kind of like to visit Denmark based on the work of Jensen alone--and that world's "happiest" country tag they've been given. Copenhagen anyone?

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