If you’ve ever wondered how it is that so few comedies are exported from Denmark, which consistently ranks as one of the happiest and most peaceful nations on the planet, Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men & Chicken‘s pitch-black sense of humor — the kind you laugh at only to break the tension — may provide a clue.
At first glance it bears little resemblance to most of Denmark’s cinematic exports. There’s none of Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic nihilism, and the dynamic between brothers Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) and Gabriel (David Dencik), while strained, is nothing compared to the family in turmoil in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration.
Bound by hereditary oddity, the two are torn apart by the revelation that they’re actually half-brothers, which comes in their father’s videotaped will — turns out the man they’ve been calling Dad their whole lives adopted them. And so they go to the remote island of Ork, where their biological father and three other half-brothers await, and the Scandinavian sensibility begins to seep through.
The new family unit, though not exactly nuclear, is host to its fair share of mutations — almost to the point of resembling something out of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, which has somehow never been turned into a Cronenberg film. Mikkelsen, blessed with the rare ability to class up a joint while also being the most menacing guy in the room, is cast against type as a mustachioed philanderer; based on the evidence, his estimable talents are better suited to Hannibal.
Men & Chicken
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen
Opens April 22, IFC Center