Tiny Denmark has exported some mighty melodramas — including 2004’s “Brothers,” the corporate parable “Inheritance” and last year’s other Nazi-killer adventure, “Flame and Citron” — in the past decade. “Terribly Happy,” a noirish black comedy about a tarnished cop’s disastrous redemptive journey, is the catalog’s delectably weird and wickedly entertaining new
Genre fans and those with dark funny bones should especially appreciate this herring-out-of-water adventure, psychothriller, quasi Western and fable about conformity and need — all of which director and co-writer Henrik Ruben Genz (adapting Erling Jepsen’s novel) expertly presents as an accessibly eerie cocktail with a dominant Nordic gene.
Set in a Danish village where, marshland notwithstanding, you half-expect a tumbleweed to roll through, the story centers on a Copenhagen police officer named Robert (Jakob Cedergren), who arrives to assume the low-profile marshal’s post to which, for reasons not yet revealed, he’s been exiled.
Robert tries to operate by the book, but the townsfolk balk.
They have their own way of doing everything — from hanging laundry and greeting one another (even the cat says “mojn”) to dispensing justice, he learns. And the latter, in severe cases, can result in a one-way trip to the bog.
Noir happens when Robert meets Ingelise (Lene Maria Christensen), femme fatale and battered wife of cowboy-hatted brute Jorgen (Kim Bodnia).
Things get tangled, torrid and cataclysmically out of control. Coverups and further sinking — into sludge both geographical and moral — occur.
None of this is exceptionally original. Genz, whose genre playfulness and bizarre palette have prompted comparisons to the Coen brothers and David Lynch, indeed has such appeal, but he doesn’t deliver the stirringly stark pictures of human baseness or the wonderfully imaginative plot tributaries or creepy-hollow landscapes that distinguish those filmmakers’ collective work.
At the same time, though, the film is so proficiently constructed on every front and so skillfully put together that it can’t help but triumph.
This is a constantly entertaining, impressively cynical and stylishly spooky brew containing everything from an existential twang to a splendidly blood-soaked moment of anxiety to a knock-out variation on the standard saloon showdown.
Genz, who has cited Hitchcock as an influence, also displays a bent for suspense. He includes some serious observations about conformity and corruption as well.
Among the solid cast, special mention goes to Lars Brygmann, who plays the pill-dispensing town “quack” — one of several eccentric supporting characters who add to the movie’s small pleasures.
Starring Jakob Cedergren, Kim Bodnia, Lene Maria Christensen, Lars Brygmann
Written by Gry Dunja Jensen, Henrik Ruben Genz
Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz
Running time 1 hour 42 minutes