February 20, 2010

MOVIES: Terribly Happy (Henrik Ruben Genz, 2008 / US 2010)

This one is great fun, equal parts film noir, contemporary western, and crime thriller. Robert (Jakob Cedergren) is a cop who's been posted to a remote village where the locals prefer to handle things on their own, with no outside interference. It's a gloomy little place where there's always enough rain to turn the fields outside town into a murky bog -- a bog that hides a lot of local secrets -- and where all of the villagers know every one of those secrets.

They know, for instance, that Jorgen and Ingelise (Kim Bodnia and Lene Maria Christensen) aren't a happy couple. She claims he beats her; he says her wounds are self-inflicted, a desperate cry for attention. Whichever is true, they know that Jorgen is enough of a bully that it's better not to get involved. But law-and-order Robert can't help but get involved, and he's gradually sucked into their complicated relationship until he's knee-deep in trouble.

This wouldn't be much of a film noir if Robert really were the boy scout he initially seems to be; he's got dark secrets of his own (and gathers more as the story unfolds), and some of the locals seem to know a lot about those secrets, too.

And it wouldn't be much of a western without a barroom faceoff between hero and villain (a drawn-out drinking contest takes the place of the traditional quick-draw), or an ironic country song playing in the background of a key scene (Eddy Arnold's "You Always Hurt the One You Love" takes on a creepy resonance that might remind you of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet).

And it certainly wouldn't be much of a thriller without at least one "dammit, I thought I killed you already" scene, or a moment when the hero's misdeeds are almost revealed, or a little girl who wanders the streets late at night pushing a baby carriage with a very squeaky wheel.

David Lynch isn't the only director who came to mind as I watched Terribly Happy; I was reminded of the Coen brothers, too, particularly Blood Simple. But director Henrik Ruben Genz brings a style of his own that goes beyond those influences, and finds a creepy with that's all his own. Genz has signed on to direct an English-language remake (which I'll be mentally casting for the next few days -- Ryan Gosling as the cop? George Clooney playing against type as the villain?) -- but you know that it won't live up to the original, which is definitely worth seeing if it comes to your town.

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