Dir/scr:Anders Thomas Jensen. Den. 2005. 92mins.
How do you persuade a neo-Nazi to bake an apple pie' Thisis the droll challenge that powers the third feature to be directed byubiquitous Danish screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen.
Adam'sApples isa curious genre mix, part black comedy, part serious good-and-evil moralitytale. Though it does not always get the blend right, the central stand-offbetween an eccentric rural priest and the fresh-out-off-jail Nazi skin that hasbeen assigned to him for community service is quirky enough to hold ourinterest.
It'salso a polished, commercial package, from the hyper-real colour photography tothe sentimental classical score to the casting of leads Mads Mikkelsen (PusherI & II, Open Hearts) and Ulrich Thomsen (Festen, Inheritance)- currently Denmark's two most bankable actors.
Abig success at the local box office with almost 300,000 admissions in its firstfive weeks, Adam's Apple will play to more limited audiences abroad, butin the hands of the right distributor could make a small splash.
Atfirst, the terms of the central face-off seem clear enough. Adam (UlrichThomsen), gets off the bus one day in a cliche of a Danish farming community,all rolling fields of corn, with a neat, white church on the horizon. Thechurch is the fiefdom of Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen), the priest to whom the ex-conhas been assigned for a spot of rehabilitation and re-education.
Taciturn,sullen and aggressive, Adam aims to get through this forced bucolic sojourn asquickly as possible so he can join his skinhead friends in the city andrediscover some of the things that make his life worthwhile: racism, drunkenmayhem, putting the boot in.
Whenthe intense and humourless Ivan asks Adam what his goal is going to be duringhis stay, Adam answers facetiously that he wants to bake an apple pie - hardlyexpecting that Ivan will take him seriously, and assign him the job ofprotecting and nurturing the old apple tree in the garden.
Ivan'stwo other guests are Gunnar, a lumbering former tennis pro who drowns his senseof failure in drink, and Khalid, a permanently pissed-off Arab immigrant whorobs petrol stations in order to strike a blow at the multinationals; they aresoon joined by Sarah (Paprika Steen), a pregnant woman who has been told thather baby may well be born handicapped.
Thomsen'senjoyable performance as Adam conveys perfectly the mix of suspicion, bigotryand ignorance that motivates a thug's Hitler worship.
Ivanis the more complex character, but also, given the role's uneasy mixture ofcharacter and caricature, the most difficult to lift from script to screen. Atfirst he appears to be no more than an eccentric scout-master of a priest, buthe is gradually revealed to be seriously screwed up, in denial about his son'scerebral palsy and his wife's suicide.
Theterms of the challenge thus shift neatly: from being the problem case, Adamgradually realises he is the only sane one in the place, and - though he kicksagainst it all the way - he gradually takes on the mantle of responsibility.
Hyper-reallighting and plenty of low-angled shots and swooping crane shots bring out themenacing, warped morality-tale quality of the exercise, though the swellingclassical soundtrack sometimes cranks up the sentiment more than is reallynecessary - for example in the scene of Adam's vicious attack on Ivan.
Theuse of the handicapped-kid theme plays in a rather facile way to the gallery -especially in a final plot twist. But there are some fine, darkly comicmoments, and in the end Adam's Apples is carried by the sheer energy ofits own oddness.
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