(directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, 2005)
***+ (out of 5)
> Strange, very, very dark comedy from Norway. These stoic Nordic types sure have a grim view of humor!
. Skinhead convict Ulrich Thomsen is released from prison and transported out into the Norwegian countryside to transition back into society, in the care of eccentric clergyman Mads Mikkelsen, who is clearly not right in the head. (Literally. Unbeknownst to his mates, a giant inoperable tumor is growing inside his head that will kill him sooner than later.) It’s the familiar fish-out-of-water plot, a character-based story about the gradual evolution of a man who is fittingly described in his files as “evil”. As part of the program, Mads requires his charges to find a goal for their time with him. The convict flippantly suggests he bake a pie using the prized apples growing in the rectory garden- and to his befuddlement, the clergyman agrees. The convict will become caretaker of the trees until the apples have ripened, then he will harvest them and bake a pie.
. It’s a fun setup, and a delight to watch these two fine actors bounce off each other- even if they cover some very dark territory. I was shocked by the sudden violence in the story though, as I am not one to associate carnage with humor. To me, they are all but mutually-exclusive. At one point, a pet cat is shot and killed- and it’s played for laughs! At another point, a character says he is bringing his Down’s Syndrome child to live in Indonesia where “he will look like everyone else”. Nasty stuff!
. But this quirky little film gets better as it goes along, until it seems as though God himself might have had a hand in the story. The convict has been given a Bible, and every time he opens it up, or drops it on the floor, it opens to the Book of Job, so what the hell- he reads it. His change from monster to socialized human being is gradual and believable. We can see him actually began to care about other people, and compassion is the death of bigotry.
. Things get interesting when his old skinhead cronies show up at the church, providing a disparate (if improbable) ending, with a coda at the close that cleverly brings things full-circle.
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