Reviewed by Sheila Johnston in Locarno
Screened in competition
Dir: Jesper W Nielsen. Denmark. 2002. 95mins.
Danish actors must be the envy of their colleagues the world over: this tiny national industry produces an endless stream of films which treat very recognisable, everyday problems with that distinctive Nordic blend of comedy and melancholy and create in the process some marvellously meaty roles for their large casts. Jesper W Nielsen's Okay follows this successful, if increasingly familiar, pattern. Like this year's Berlin competition entry, Annette K Olesen's Minor Mishaps, it is not a Dogme film and the relatively polished finish may steer it towards a broader - although still limited - audience. In Denmark, the film opened on 48 screens in late March and has since taken $1.6m (229,247 admissions). It should strike an appreciative chord in the European countries where it has been sold among its characters' demographic group: in other words, middle-class married thirtysomethings and harassed working mums - always assuming that they can find the time to see it.
This is unlikely to be the case with the film's protagonist, Nete (Paprika Steen), an exhausted career woman and mother. The opening scene finds her at work at an employment agency, haranguing one of her clients. At home she is equally brisk and bossy towards her husband, Kristian (Troels Lyby), a professor of literature and aspiring writer with 11 unfinished novels languishing in his drawer. Then there is their daughter, Trine, who feels the first stirrings of teenager rebellion and - against her mother's vigorous opposition - can't wait to get the braces off her teeth.
Like Minor Mishaps, the film's title is ironic: things in its characters' lives are very much not okay. Tensions come to a head when Johannes, Nete's widowed father (Ole Ernst), is diagnosed with terminal leukaemia and is coaxed reluctantly to give up his own home and move into his daughter's over-crowded flat. He encourages Trine to assert her independence, the frustrated Kristian drifts into an affair with one of his students and Johannes himself survives far longer than expected: his illness even shows signs of going into remission. Nete's gay brother, Martin - estranged from Johannes since he came out - has been persuaded to donate his sperm to two lesbian friends who want a baby, while Nete tries to engineer a reconciliation between father and son.
At the centre of the maelstrom is Nete herself. Her tragedy, as Oscar Wilde would say, is that she is turning into her own mother, a woman both she and her father abhorred, although it's also clear that her nagging is a frantic, if doomed attempt to stop everybody's complicated lives from crumbing into chaos.
In this mix of intense, dark drama and comedy of embarrassment, the serious moments dominate and Steen struggles very hard at times to retain audience sympathy for a difficult character. Other performances are top-notch, notably Ernst as Nete's cantankerous father. The film is smoothly shot and crisply cut, although Nielsen, a former editor, is rather over-fond of fussy cutaway close-ups of cigarettes and coffee cups. A maddeningly catchy title song manages to conclude the proceedings on a perky note.
Prod co: Angel Films, Beck Films
Den dist: Angel Scanbox
Int'l sales: Bavaria Film Int'l
Exec prods: Mogens Glad, Poul Erik Lindeborg
Prod: Peter Bech
Scr: Kim Fupz Aakeson
Cinematography: Erik Zappon
Prod des: Peter De Neergaard
Ed: Morten Giese
Music: Halfden E, Nikolaj Steen, Jesper Winge Leisner
Main cast: Paprika Steen, Troels Lyby, Ole Ernst, Nikolaj Kopernikus