Terribly Happy (Frygtelig Lykkelig)

Terribly Happy is a fun as hell genre-mingler from Denmark that wears it's smirk rather well. Cinephiles and buffs will be immediately drawn to the deliberate pacing and unquestionable similarities to the Coen Brother's debut, Blood Simple.

While rooted in noir, director Henrik Ruben Genz has also accented his crime film with elements of the western, psycho/sexual dramas, horror and black comedy. This amalgam allows for the fascinatingly dark, quirky (and often disturbing) story to veer in many directions without losing its central focus.

The basic plot line is standard cop fare. A policeman (Jakob Cedergren) from Copenhagen has been assigned to a backwater burg in the South Jutland for correctional and therapeutic purposes. His past transgression is well masked for the first half of the picture. Slowly, through his interactions with the townspeople, we see a hint of what sort of behaviors may have led him to this fate. The citizens themselves are a motley assortment of distant, petty xenophobes who drink to excess and gossip openly. The bog on the outskirts of town seems to hold many of their secrets (and attempts at justice) and they don't seem to care much for new sheriffs trying to enforce a more conventional sense of the law on them.

The story turns on the town bully and drunk (a strangely menacing Kim Bodnia), whose abused wife (Lene Maria Christensen) wastes no time insinuating herself on the new lawman. The rounds of beatings she suffers are never seen (although the entire town knows of them) and always occur as their weird daughter strolls her teddy bear around the streets in a baby carriage. It's squeaky wheels are used to nice effect as an audible clue to the monstrousness occurring off-camera. The cop becomes smitten with the possibly insane woman and begins to take more than a legal interest in the happenings of the family.

Terribly Happy (as the ironic title implies) is not for the mystery or action fan who likes things tied up in neat bows. It's a slow burning oddity with shots of deviant humor, a muted color palette (Is Denmark really as gloomy as their cinema makes out?), a recurring theme of muck and sogginess, social dysfunction, a psychologically twisted anti-hero and no redeeming characters whatsoever (well, the cop's cat is okay) - with a few confusing fables and allegories thrown in for good measure.

Just the way the movies should be. God bless the Scandinavians.

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