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Terribly Happy

The difference between film noir and comedy is primarily tone. Think of your average Ben Stiller movie, which tends to revolve around his character’s relentless, unavoidable humiliation. Darken the visual palette, throw a death into the mix, and you have a story that Fritz Lang might have done something with.

The smartly titled Danish film Terribly Happy (I have no idea if that’s an accurate translation of the original Frygtelig lykkelig) walks that line in a way that will best be appreciated by fans of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers, even if it never goes full goose loony.

Our protagonist is Robert (Jakob Cedergren, a clenched-jaw Ben Affleck type), a cop who got into some unspecified trouble in Copenhagen. To cool down, he’s assigned to the backwater town of Skarrild, a place as welcoming as its name. Surrounded by marshes that have been known to consume entire cows, it is a town that likes to handle its own problems as much as it dislikes the attentions of outsiders. Robert tries to be a good and proper policeman, tending to his duties by the book, but at every turn he is informed that “It’s not how we do things here.”

His test comes soon enough in the person of Ingelise (Lene Maria Christensen), the blonde wife of the town bully Jorgen (Kim Bodnia). Like the weather, everyone complains about Jorgen but no one does anything about him. Robert is advised to ignore Ingelise’s complaints of spousal abuse, and we know that he should ignore the come-on eyes with which she pitches her appeals. But from the early moment when we see the cop flushing his meds down the toilet, we know that this is not a fellow likely to make the right decisions.

Terribly Happy isn’t as twistily plotted as one might like for this kind of story, but director Henrik Ruben Genz provides a foreboding, suffocating atmosphere in this most uninviting village, filmed as a parody of an old West town. And his tongue isn’t so buried in his cheek that he can’t provide some authentically unsettling moments, like the sight of Ingelise’s young daughter walking the streets with her doll carriage to get away from her hellhole of a home.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Terribly Happy

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