A tiny village's secrets become a Copenhagen cop's undoing when a light duty assignment turns out to be anything but in Terribly Happy, Denmark's entry for the foreign language Oscar. Based on a novel by Erling Jepsen, this offbeat drama wrings suspense and mordant wit in equal measure from a situation that spirals quickly out of control. There is plenty in the film to appeal to fans of dark, understated humor and quirky stories—if they can find it in a limited release, which will surely depress this film’s box office numbers.
In Skarrild, a bog serves as the receptacle for all the problems that confront the village. For Copenhagen cop Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) exiled to the picaresque burg, expecting boredom but finding brand new ways to get into trouble, the bog could be a metaphor for his faltering life and career. Exactly what happened back in the city to earn Robert his banishment remains obscure for most of the movie, but the town is supposed to be light duty until he is cleared for urban service again. What he finds is an insular place where the villagers are used to handling their problems themselves, rarely calling in the police, even when village bully Jørgen Buhl's (Kim Bodnia) abused wife Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen) turns up dead.
The isolation of Robert's new position is made plain in Terribly Happy's opening moments as he travels through mile after mile of lonely farmland on his way to Skarrild. The town itself is nothing but a small grid in the middle of nowhere. The people Robert encounter there, even the doctor (Lars Brygmann) and the priest (Henrik Likkegaard), are acerbic eccentrics. What is supposed to be a second chance for Robert, the prelude to better time, he quickly realizes could be a trap or even worse, a dead end. Skarrild might be the earthy equivalent of purgatory, only as a prelude to hell, not to heaven.
In keeping with the bucolic setting (gorgeously lensed by cinematographer Jørgen Johannson), both Henrik Ruben Genz's direction and his script, written with Dunja Gry Jensen, are extremely low-key. Part of the delight of the film is the way the monstrosity of deeds and the black comedy sneak up on this story of one flailing cop and the town that increasingly seems less like a lifeline than the weight that will finally sink him.
Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Lene Maria Christensen, Kim Bodnia, Lars Brygmann, Anders Hove, Mathilde Maack, Henrik Likkegaard
Director: Henrik Ruben Genz
Screenwriter: Henrik Ruben Genz and Dunja Gry Jensen
Producers: Tina Dalhoff and Thomas Gameltoft
Genre: Drama; Danish-language, subtitled
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: February 5 NY, February 12 SF