cre­ates a moody noir at­mos­phere

Dan­ish for­eign film sub­mis­sion to Os­cars trans­plants fa­mil­iar genre


The town is des­o­late. A grim bog lurks on the out­skirts, a swampy pit that, we are told, can swal­low a cow whole.

The craggy, shifty towns­peo­ple seem to re­gard it as the lo­cal court­house — and a lib­er­ally used one, at that.

Lo­cals use the same word for good­bye and hello — “mojn” — a sa­lu­ta­tion that sug­gests com­ing and go­ing might as well be the same thing.

Han­son, clean-cut and upright, ar­rives with a “ by the book” men­tal­ity that im­me­di­ately chafes with the lo­cals, who keep him off bal­ance. Sto­ically hunched over their beers in the town pub, they be­wil­der him by know­ing his ev­ery move.

The au­thor­ity they bet­ter re­spect is Jor­gen (Kim Bod­nia), a griz­zled and stout tyrant in a cow­boy hat.

Han­son quickly makes him­self Jor­gen’s en­emy by be­com­ing friendly and pro­tec­tive of his at­trac­tive, abused wife, In­ge­lise (Lene Maria Chris­tensen).

It would be a sim­ple enough film if, once the vi­o­lence picked up, we were left to root for Han­son to out­wit the crafty coun­try bump­kins, re­sist their femme fa­tale and keep from be­ing sucked into the bog.

But Ter­ri­bly Happy throws sev­eral wrin­kles into the old for­mula that re­veal a much broader and cyn­i­cal view of cor­rup­tion. By the end, there’s no dis­tance be­tween city and coun­try.

Ter­ri­bly Happy, di­rected by Henrick Ruben Genz, is all mood­i­ness, mid­night black com­edy and noir mys­tery. That’s earned the film com­par­isons to a Coen broth­ers flick, but Ter­ri­bly Happy is more straight­for­ward and less self­aware.

The com­mon­al­ity, though, is that Genz play­fully in­vert genre: The prover­bial show­down hap­pens not as a shootout but a drink­ing con­test.

Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Jor­gen Jo­hans­son uses a cool, drab pal­let to cre­ate the tense at­mos­phere.

Evok­ing the dan­ger of be­ing swal­lowed up, the cam­era re­peat­edly peers at boots meet­ing the ground, (in­clud­ing a heart-stop­ping Tell-Tale Heart al­lu­sion).

Three stars out of four.

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