Sunday, November 27, 2011

Adam's Apples

Anders Thomas Jensen, 2005, Denmark (9.1*)

This black comedy has one of the most insane casts since One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). A paroled felon, Nazi skinhead Ulrich Thomsen, who’s perfectly cast here (he just looks like an angry criminal), shows up at a clergyman’s church that serves as a halfway house for some released felons that really should be behind bars. Here they supposedly do community service, but they never seem to do any.

The new arrival soon meets a semi-terrorist Pakistani who holds up all Statoil gas stations because of some capitalist crime by the company against his father; apparently they stole their land to get their oil for nothing, which has happened since oil was discovered. This guy not only has weapons but knows how to use them, as some local crows find out the hard way.

The preacher himself (another fine acting job by Mads Mikkelsen who was the bad guy in the Casino Royale remake, but who has done many excellent Danish films) is a utopian anti-realist who admittedly sees the silver lining to nearly everything. After being beaten senseless for this optimism by the Nazi, he shows up at the skinhead’s door and calmly says “we’ll continue this discussion in the kitchen”. The kitchen is run by an over-sized and over-sexed man who seems to be stuck in his teenage years; he’s the most innocent of the entire group, yet his dirty mind goes into overdrive when a woman shows up.

The apples in the title pertain to the Nazi’s name, Adam, and an apple tree in the yard. Adam decides he’s like to bake an apple pie when the apples are ready. In the meantime, since this film is about whether it’s god or the devil that gives one misfortunes, the poor apple tree goes through hell on earth, nothing goes right for it, yet it’s fruit is the metaphor for the entire film.

Much of this questions the nature of the metaphysical, but in a humorous way. For awhile, you’re so taken aback by some events that you’re saying “what the heck is this?”, then after it’s all over you say “ok – I get it now”. There's a hilarious interchange about a portrait of Adolph Hitler that I won't spoil here, but this humor knows no bounds.

It has a magical quality that few films manage to pull off, without really being a fantasy so much like Field of Dreams or It’s a Wonderful Life or Heaven Can Wait. It’s magic is in it’s eccentric characters, none of whom are similar yet all of whom share the world of the preacher, and they all live apart from urban or even modern problems. Their problems are even larger really, as some unseen force seems to be attacking them whenever possible, especially the preacher – his personal history brings to mind the story of Job, just less extreme.

This won the best feature film award in Denmark, beating out one of my favorites, Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, Bier’s film is one of the best acted in history (and also features Mads Mikkelson); all four major actors in that won best acting awards somewhere in the world, six total (the two women won two each). This was a great year for Danish films, to say the least.

This won 18 awards out of 30 nominations, including several audience awards (Sao Paolo, Warsaw, Wisconsin). Ironically, at IMDB, the fans rate this 7.8 (almost in the top 250), while the critics at Metacritic (36 in all), rank it just 51 out of 100. So average filmgoers like this bizarre film more critics, you’ll think it would be just the opposite once you see it.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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