Dir. Anders Thomas Jensen. Denmark. 2002. 100mins.
The Green Butchers could launch a new sub-genre of black comedy: the flesh-coloured comedy. A laugh-out-loud farce bristling with cruelty, the film invites viewers into the loathsome world of two memorable losers, a pair of newly-minted butchers who stumble upon success by selling human meat. In colour and texture it is owes a debt to another cannibal saga, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's and Marc Caro's 1991 Delicatessen, but it is entirely Danish in its unblinking social satire and its unrepentant political incorrectness. No one is nice in this film, and therein lies the pleasure.
The second film of Jensen, best-known as the co-screenwriter of Soren Kragh Jacobsen's Mifune and Susan Bier's Open Hearts, it features two of Denmark's most popular actors, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Mads Mikkelsen, transformed into unlikeable oafs. Both are so convincing in their roles they apparently put off many of their fans at home. Viewers abroad will face no such hurdle and the film should do some smart art house business. Newmarket picked up US rights at Toronto while Solo Film took it for Germany. It's a likely nominee for December's European Film Awards.
A sorrier pair of heroes has rarely graced the screen - Svend (Mikkelsen) is sweaty and peevish, Bjarne (Lie Kaas) is a pot-smoking grump. Tired of toiling for the village's leading butcher, they've scraped together the funds to launch their own shop - Bjarne by arranging to have his comatose twin brother taken off life-support so that he can inherit the brother's share of the family estate. The new shop teeters on life-support until the morning Svend discovers the corpse of the repairman whom he accidentally locked in the meat locker the night before. In walks his former employer, eager to gloat over their store's poor showing; in a mixture of spite and shock, Svend sells him some freshly marinated 'chickie-wickies'.
The ghoulish atmosphere is all the more wicked because Jensen has created a world where such events are cannily probable. Every character is in some way twisted; better still, these twists lead to lovely pay-offs that push the story forward. The village priest, for example, is notorious for having survived an isolated plane crash by eating his dead wife. Later, it is he who detects a familiar texture in the butcher's now-famous 'chickie-wickies'. Similarly, Bjarne has a nasty habit of rabbit-kicking people who annoy him, a twitch established in the opening frames that eventually saves Svend from accidentally confessing.
Most impressive, though, is the underlying humanity of this circus of the bizarre. When Egil miraculously awakens from his coma, Bjarne is driven into a tail-spin of spite; not only does he no longer inherit the money he needs, he regains a brother he has always despised, and a profoundly retarded one at that. It's an intensely dramatic turn of events, more impressive because Lie Kaas plays the role of Egil as well. That Jensen ultimately brings these two together in a convincing manner without a moment of mawkish emotion is testament to his story-telling powers.
Prod co: M&M Productions
Int'l sales: Nordisk Film
Prods: Kim Magnusson, Tivi Magnusson
Scr: Anders Thomas Jensen
Cinematography: Sebastian Blenkov
Production des: Mia Steensgaard
Ed: Anders Villadsen
Music: Jeppe Kaas
Main cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen, Line Kruse, Bodil Jorgensen, Ole Thestrup