Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy Happy (Sykt Lykkelig)

Director Anne Sewitsky

HAPPY HAPPY (Sykt Lykkelig)              C               
Norway  (85 mi)  2010  d:  Anne Sewitsky       Official site

With two Norwegian films among the Top Five films seen at the recent Chicago Film Festival this year, headed by OSLO, AUGUST 31 and TURN ME ON, DAMMIT!, it’s hard to fathom how this film got selected as the nation’s choice for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards.  Something of a variation on Mike Leigh’s HAPPY GO LUCKY (2008), where Sally Hawkins was the perennial upbeat force of nature who never for a second allows herself to drop that veneer of a smile and a happy face, Agnes Kittelsen plays Kaja, an ever cheerful Nordic optimist who continually sees the sunny side of life even in an endlessly expansive snow-covered Norwegian countryside.  While she’s in a loveless marriage with her high school sweetheart Eirick (Joachim Rafaelsen), a recluse who watches wrestling matches on TV before going to bed and who would rather go off hunting with the boys than spend time with her, leaving their ingrate of a son at home, Theo (Oskar Hernæs Brandsø), a kid who occasionally tells his mother that she’s ugly.  But something happens, like a switch turns on when a new couple moves in next door, the tall and handsome Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) and his beautiful wife Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) who teaches German in school and whose indiscretions caused them to seek a new start out in the country along with their adopted Ethiopian son Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy), who is mute.  While the neighbors appear perfect in every way, as they cook, sing in a choir and are a pure joy to be around, Kaja may take her warming party enthusiasm just a bit too far when she offers sex to Sigve, turning this into a wife swapping battle of the sexes where no one wins, especially the kids who grow more strangely off-balanced.

“Can’t we all just get along?’ was the Rodney King plea to stop the police brutality after his horrendous beating was caught on YouTube, Rodney King Beating Video - YouTube (1:17) and the police officers acquitted, though probably not seen throughout Norway, as the only reference to black culture in this home is a book on slavery, where Theo starts ordering Noa around playing slavery games, where he can make him do whatever he wants, which distastefully takes place throughout the entire film, as kids are so non-politically correct, right under their parents noses, who aren’t really paying attention anyway.  Added to this ugly subtext is the continuous presence of an all-male singing group, a Greek chorus of four guys singing in English who interrupt the narrative with American spirituals, gospel hymns or country ballads, sounding very much like a Nordic version of an American Gospel group, a strange association in a lily white Norwegian film that is suddenly incorporating touches of black culture, where the thematic elements of these songs add a supplementary track to the existing narrative, including brief classical interjections as well, mostly for the romps in the snow.  One of the most gorgeous uses of music is a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which set in a snowy landscape adds a completely different perspective. 

The musical chairs bedroom farce shifts from light and funny, where Kaja and Sigve initially have sex or run naked in the snow, to dark and tragic, eventually profoundly serious with the interjection of Elisabeth who spills the beans to Kaja’s husband, who has his own secret to conceal, as she suspects her husband is gay.  Quickly growing more dour by the minute, without the quirky fun to hold us through, a chilliness instead hangs in the air like a morning frost that never thaws throughout the day, growing insufferable at times, as no one talks to anyone anymore, where the movie descends into the picture of family dysfunction, perfectly represented by the tasteless slavery games of the two kids, where Theo actually whips the back of Noa.  But when Noa discovers President Obama accepting his Nobel Peace Prize on TV, it’s a grossly naïve and misleading image, as if the picture of Obama can or has somehow replaced the images of slavery or the Rodney King beatings.  It’s all too simplistic, especially coming on the eve of Christmas, the day that for Christians most represents the idea of hope.  Afterwards, the film really loses any hint of profundity, as the characters ring hollow and untrue, never really fleshed out of their somewhat formulaic roles, feeling all too contrived, where only Kaja is allowed any signs of growth whatsoever, as the others drift out of the picture altogether, not actually real anymore, but instead representative of the idea that things can hopefully get better. 

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