Denmark (99 mi) 2011 d: Ole Christian Madsen Official site [dk]
Denmark (99 mi) 2011 d: Ole Christian Madsen Official site [dk]
Ole Christian Madsen is a director from the Danish Film school who got his start writing and directing Danish TV scripts, including the hugely successful TV mini-series EDDERKOPPEN (2000), a film-noir vision of post-war Copenhagen in 1949, before releasing a Dogme film, KIRA’S REASON: A LOVE STORY (2001), written for his live-in partner Stine Stengade, who went on to star in FLAME AND CITRON (2008), Denmark’s biggest box office hit in 10 years and the most expensive Danish language film ever made. Madsen settles into more conventional territory here, filming what amounts to a breezy, light comedy that turns into a picturesque travelogue of Buenos Aires, Argentina as he follows a separated couple on their way towards either divorce or reconciliation. The tone of the film is set early on by the ultra-sarcastic narration throughout that continually pokes fun at the characters, comically exaggerating the state of their duress, creating a sophisticated romance and mostly pain-free movie that offers terrific performances along with plenty of laughs. In another director’s hands, this would simply be a commercially entertaining love farce with the depth of a sitcom comedy. Madsen gives the characters unusual depth, including several of the secondary characters, enlarging the story into something more, making the case for both marriage and divorce, where the key appears to be that you don’t emotionally suffocate your partner but continue to show them respect. Christian (Anders W. Berthelsen) is something of a sad sack, a wine seller from Copenhagen who has seen better days, spending his time doing little more than reaching into his valued stock and drinking his sorrows away, as his shop is on the brink of bankruptcy and his wife that left him 11-months ago is now asking for a divorce. Finally rising to the occasion with a now or never attitude, Christian decides to make a trek to Argentina, with his 16-year old son Oscar (Jamie Morton) in tow, with the hope of getting his wife back.
Like a fish out of water, Christian is literally brought to his knees at how hot it is in Buenos Aires in the middle of the summertime, inappropriately wearing his customary sportjacket, gasping for air and sweating profusely. His wife Anna (Paprika Steen), on the other hand, has successfully bridged the climate and marital transition, becoming a highly valued sports agent for soccer talent in Argentina, among the nation’s hottest commodities, as soccer is the beloved international game. Living a charmed life in a luxurious garden and pool-lined estate that has everything except a moat, she is living with her hottest property, Argentina’s top player Juan Diaz (Sebastián Estevanez). When Christian calls that he’s in town, she’s in the middle of a multi-million dollar deal with Juan that will elevate her to the most successful agent in the business. Clearly their priorities have shifted since the separation, as Christian has remained down in the dumps feeling sorry for himself while Anna is living in a luxury filled dream world, proving you can have your cake and eat it to, as she’s sleeping with the most popular sports figure in the country. With an Adonis-like muscular physique, and a charming and likeable personality, Juan is literally rubbing his nose in his own dismal failures. Were it not for the vulgar actions of the classical dance-trained housemaid Fernanda, Adriana Mascialino, resuscitating whatever’s left of Christian’s humiliated masculinity and pride, he might have thrown in the towel. As it is, he spends his evenings drinking himself into a stupor and sleeping on the ground in his own stink. Making matters worse, Juan scores two goals in the superclásico, the Argentinean soccer game of the year, so Christian wanders into a local bar to tackle the dreaded Malbec wine, the national drink, but containing one of the toughest of all grapes to process into a balanced wine, as it’s considered too earthy for refined wine lovers. In the bar, he meets Mendoza, Miguel Dedovich, the disgruntled bar winemaker, the only other man in the country disinterested in soccer, and one who hates Malbec as well, though he hates just about everybody and everything.
What separates this film from more conventional fare is the often hilarious writing, the superb acting from even the standout secondary players, where Fernanda and Mendoza are the real stars of the show, Madsen’s flair for comic timing, the self-effacing ability to poke fun at oneself, and creating an open playing field where anything’s possible, as Christian’s sole reason for traveling to Argentina was to win back the love of his life, but after seeing her turn into the haughty, high and mighty, self-righteous, all-controlling, venom-spewing know-it-all who always has to have her way, he was reminded of why they separated in the first place, where her contemptuous view of others was suddenly on display again since his arrival. The two spend their time yelling and screaming at one another and reliving old times while challenging the other to sign the divorce papers, as Anna has a wedding planned with Juan. Oscar tunes all this out and instead follows his teenage instincts, becoming instantly infatuated with a pretty young tourist guide, Veronica, Dafne Schiling, giving her his phone number and then praying that she’ll call. Moving out of his mother’s volatile castle, he checks into a local hotel, where alone with his thoughts he visualizes dancing cockroaches doing the tango, where surrealism is not at all out of place in this film, but fits right into the exaggerated Almodóvar inspired melodrama where madcap irreverence is the prominent theme. Seemingly spinning out of control at every turn, Madsen maintains a balance with the suggestion that romance is still in the air, seemingly from all fronts, as even Mendoza is impressed by Christian’s blind taste ability to trace the origins of wine, as the two have a love affair with the beauty and splendor of drinking wine, leading to still more reckless mayhem. By the end, we don’t know who’ll be partnering with whom, or even what language will prevail, as everyone seems to have second thoughts, but the film is very cleverly written by Madsen and Anders Frithiof August, entertaining throughout, given a whimsical tone of self-deprecating humor, while Paprika Steen never fails to distinguish herself even in a more mainstream light comedy.