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Terribly Happy

Dane in Distress

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Terribly Happy opens with an odd tale of a cow born with two heads, one of which is human. It brings bad luck to the town of South Jutland, so they throw it into a muddy bog and it disappears. The tale sets the tone for a film that is at once menacing and creepy, but also enticing and darkly humorous. It’s a stellar Danish film that twists spectacular thriller instincts with humor subtle enough for an unengaged viewer to miss.

Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergen) is relocated to South Jutland to take on the Marshall’s position after some sort of incident back in Copenhagen. He’s hesitant about the small-town life and counting the minutes to his return to the police action of the big city. Yet, almost immediately after his arrival he, and the audience, knows that this isn’t an ordinary town.

Looking for the sporting goods shop owner to fix his bike flat, he meets Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen), who tells him the owner has disappeared but she doesn’t seem too concerned. After their initial meeting, she soon confides in him that her husband beats her, but she ultimately refuses to file an official report. Robert isn’t aware that this isn’t a place for digging, but he does anyway.

Behind every stare Robert gets and every door he enters, it seems as if he’s only getting half the picture. He’s continuously told the way things are done in South Jutland, and the way the old Marshall handled situations. But he doesn’t care, he’s here to do his job.

It’s after he meets Ingerlise’s husband, Jørgen (Kim Bodnia, Pusher), that things become unhinged. Jørgen appears to run the town through fear, denying wrongdoing and telling Robert to keep out. Of course, Robert can’t do that, and he’s sucked deeper and deeper into the town and its mystery.

Director Henrik Ruben Genz does a fantastic job of positioning a film that runs on all cylinders. It’s at once a Midwestern mystery and a thriller and darkly comedic piece of art. It moves slowly in a town where everything is hidden behind stern looks and secrets are lost in an ominous bog. Everybody is hidden in plain sight and words don’t reveal a thing.

Robert is also dealing with his own demons from the events that preceded his relocation, and his past and present come crashing down on him as he attempts to figure out the world around him. It’s a stunning film that comes from a Danish tradition of mixing humor with the grotesque in a sort of Coen Brothers fashion. But this film more than stands on its own and Genz creates a world, however dark, all his own.