‘Men & Chicken’ Review: Absurdist Danish Misery | TIFF 2015

     September 15, 2015


Comedy isn’t exactly the first genre that springs to mind when you think of the Danish film industry. Yet, Anders Thomas Jensen’s film Men & Chicken is most certainly that. Granted, it’s a deeply dark comedy featuring death, perversion, abusive families, sadness, and Mads Mikkelsen. So, despite the laughs, it’s very much a project that will appeal to those who adore the special brand of cinematic misery delivered by the dastardly Danes. It’s a deeply weird and perverse movie designed to tickle the funny bones of viewers who are just as sick as the filmmakers.

To set the scene for the bleak humor to follow, the film opens with a deathbed joke. Gabriel (David Dencik) is by his father’s side as he passes away, but misses the final breath due to bad timing and then we get a little gag about the smell. Good twisted stuff. His brother on the other hand, wasm’t even be there. Elias (Mikkelsen) instead spent the night out with a wheelchair-bound psychiatrist and learns about daddy’s death when he takes a mid-date bathroom masturbation break. Suffice to say the brothers are an awkward pair. They share a hair lip, but little else that shows their heritage. Gabriel has endured plastic surgery to make him appear as normal as possible and has led a reasonably responsible life. Elias on the other hand embraces his unpleasant physical traits and gives in to any and all awful urges whenever he isn’t tagging along with his brother or trying to live vicariously through him.


Image via TIFF

The pair are left a deathbed video from their father and learn that they are actually adopted half brothers, but the tape cuts off before they can learn anything else. All they know is their real father’s name and embark on a trip to find him that takes them to a rotting village on an isolated island with a population of around 41 lost souls. Eventually they find their father’s home and it’s a rotted out institution overwhelmed with filth, weeds, and farm animals. They also have three new brothers—Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Josef (Nicolas Bro), and Franz (Soren Maling)—who were raised like animals and delight in all forms of physical abuse. So, it’s an awkward reuinion to say the least and that will lead to plenty more filthy secrets.

That’s the set up to Men & Chicken and truthfully, most of the movies best material comes while writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen establishes his weird little world. The tone is pitched somewhere between dark drama and lunatic comedy. Slapstick and body fluid humor rests next to psychological abuse and tragedy in fascinating ways. It’s hard to tell where the movie is going because the tone fluctuates so freely. It’s also an blast just to watch to typically stoic actors like Dencik and Mikkelsen embrace the weird and wild comedy. Dencik mostly gets straight man duty, but his weathered face and weary expressions earn plenty of laughs. Mikkelsen on the other hand is remarkable when thrown so far out of his comfort zone. Boasting a bad wig and worse teeth, all of his quiet charisma is stipped away and in its place comes bursts of manic energy punctuated by filthy physical comedy. The running gag about his excessive masturbation and the toilet paper he brings everywhere to keep that addiction alive could have felt like a bit much, but Mikkelsen’s commitment to the ridiculousness he’s been handed makes it all almost charmingly hilarious.


Image via TIFF

Shooting the movie as if it were a mix between sincere drama and gothic horror, Jensen finds just the right deadpan tone to deliver his sicko lunacy and also grounds things enough to sneak in some moving drama towards the end. Though much of the film’s second half gets a little too arch and convoluted, the filmmaker somehow manages to transform his sick cinematic joke into an oddly touching tale about family and acceptance. Yep, Men & Chicken is a weird damn movie that somehow walks a line between dark shock comedy and sincere emotion. Even if the filmmaker loses his way at times during that odd experiment, there’s no denying that the movie is unlike anything else around. Definitely worth seeking out for those who appreciate the emotional complexity of the art house and the inherent hilarity of the outhouse.

Grade: B

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