Dir: Annette K Olesen. Denmark. 2002. 109mins.
That peculiarly Danish brand of bittersweet, intimate comedy finds its latest expression in Minor Mishaps, the story of a turbulent family reunion that combines many familiar Dogme elements (although it is not, in the strict sense, a Dogme film) with Mike Leigh's preparation for a script, based on characters developed through intensive improvisation with the actors. While the result doesn't break any new ground, it's an extremely warm, likeable and funny film. In both its technical polish and in the terrific performances, it also signals a very accomplished feature debut for its director, Danish National Film School graduate Annette Olesen. In Denmark, box-office prospects are excellent. Internationally, Minor Mishaps' derivative quality makes it unlikely to be greeted with the same critical euphoria that created a bidding war around Mifune, Celebration or Italian For Beginners at previous festivals. But it should exert a strong appeal worldwide to middlebrow arthouse audiences.
The film's blackest joke is that the mishaps in it are scarcely minor: death, illness, marriage break-ups and incest, both alleged and actual, are all on the agenda. The first blow falls almost immediately when Ulla, the matriarch of the family is killed in a road accident. Gathering for her funeral, her three grown-up children and the widower's brother reassess their past and present lives.
John (Jorgen Kiil), Ulla's husband of 40 years, is a compulsive jokester with a dicky heart. Meanwhile his brother, Soren (Jesper Christensen), a carpenter on long-term sick leave who's fast turning into a couch potato, seems oblivious to the yearnings of his restless wife Hanne (Karen-Lise Mynster).
The couple's three children are equally dysfunctional. Their eldest daughter, Eva (Jannie Faurschou), a scatty would-be artist, is undecided whether she wants to devote her muse to writing haikus about ducks or creating oversized abstract expressionist paintings. Their workaholic son, Tom (Henrik Prip), has been neglecting his family, while the inhibited, socially inept youngest daughter, Marianne (Maria Wuergler Rich), has never been able to let go of her parents' apron strings. Her personal emancipation and successful search for love form the heart of the story although, rather than resolving all the characters' problems, Minor Mishaps also has the subtlety to leave a number of ambiguities and loose ends.
All this is very much the mixture as before, particularly as seen in Celebration, but that should not detract from the film's considerable achievements. Minor Mishaps is full of compelling dramatic moments and Olesen's two cameramen are especially skilled at picking up tiny but revealing gestures and reactions. There are also some splendid jokes, most of whose humour seems to have been preserved in the unusually sensitive English subtitles; a macho builder's stab at writing his own haiku is a particular comic highlight.
While the smooth visual finish of the film might look bland to audiences who prefer the rough-and-ready immediacy of classic Dogme, the careful framing and sharp editing keep the characters' ambiguous relationships in clear focus and the story moving along smartly. The DV to film transfer looks fine on the big screen.
Prod cos: Zentropa Productions
Int'l sales: Trust Film Sales
Prod: Ib Tardini
Scr: Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Cinematography: Morten Soborg, Henrik Ipsen
Prod des: Trine Padmo Olsen
Ed: Nicolaj Monberg
Music: Jeppe Kaas
Main cast: Jorgen Kiil, Vigga Bro, Henrik Prip, Maria Wuergler Rich, Jannie Faurschou, Jesper Christensen