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With: Jakob Cedergren, Lene Maria Christensen, Kim Bodnia, Lars Brygmann, Anders Hove, Jens Jørn Spottag, Henrik Lykkegaard, Bodil Jørgensen, Peter Hesse Overgaard, Niels Skousen, Lars Lunøe, Sune Q. Geertsen, Mathilde Maack
Written by: Henrik Ruben Genz, Dunja Gry Jensen, based on a novel by Erling Jepsen
Directed by: Henrik Ruben Genz
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 104
Date: 07/05/2008
IMDB

Terribly Happy (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bog Jam

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This offbeat crime film from Denmark was the country's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, but this is not the kind of film that gets nominated. It has been aptly compared to the Coen Brothers and films like Blood Simple (1984). It received a theatrical release in 2010.

Terribly Happy relies heavily on its peculiar sense of place, a closed-off small town, where it's always damp and where the cows sink in the mud. People use the same mysterious greeting for "hello" and "goodbye." Everyone hangs their laundry a certain way, and everyone wears rubber boots, all the time. There's a mysterious "bog" where people can conveniently get rid of the excess baggage in their lives, which includes other people.

Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) is a cop from Copenhagen. He has been transferred to this small town, presumably as some kind of punishment. We learn that he has a wife and daughter; he calls, listens to the answering machine and hangs up. He quickly learns about all the odd behavior in town, and all the things that the previous marshal did that met with everyone's approval. Robert meets the strangely pretty Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen). She flirts with him, and he discovers that she's married to an abusive lout named Jørgen (Kim Bodnia), who beats her. Jørgen claims that he doesn't beat her, that he loves her, and that she creates the bruises herself.

Things take a terrible turn when Robert gets a bit too involved and it results in the death of one of the townspeople. This results in a scramble to cover his tracks, but finding that the tracks mysteriously cover themselves... mostly.

Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz, from a novel by Erling Jepsen, the film's greatest achievement is the look and mood of the little town. It's perpetually damp and vaguely threatening at all times. Even something as simple as Robert hanging out his laundry has underlying connotations. The one purely innocent creature is a cat that Robert inherits (from the previous marshal, naturally). In one shot, Robert takes out his frustrations on the poor little thing by drawing his gun. The cat rubs its whiskers against the muzzle, mocking Robert even further.

Genz uses careful and purposeful camera setups for every shot, emphasizing off-kilter angles and depth of field. The mood is totally deadpan, even if it's not particularly funny (is that a language barrier, perhaps?). But it couldn't have worked without Robert's seemingly never-ending string of bad choices and bad luck, and the fact that we feel his pain.

Oscilloscope released the 2010 DVD, complete with an audio commentary track by director Genz and producer Thomas Gammeltoft, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and two shorts about "fights" between the director and author Jepsen. Writer Foster Hirsch provides a liner notes essay.

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