Art of Crying: Denmark’s Entry for Foreign-Language Oscar

Denmark–Black Comedy
(Kunsten at Graede I Kor)

Palm Springs Film Fest 2008–Peter Schnau Fog’s “The Art of Crying,” Denmark’s official entry for the 2007 foreign-language Oscar, has been traveling the global festival circuit, winning along the way such prizes as Nordic Council Award. The film premiered at the San Sebastian Film Fest in the section, Zabaltegi New Directors.

Based on the best-selling roman a clef by Erling Espen, “Art of Crying” is a darkly humorous satire of family life, as seen from the point of view of a nave 11-year old boy named Allan, who doesn’t quite understand social and communal moresand deviance within his own clan. In a voice-over narration that begins the film, Allan says: “In my family, it’s important to stay awake, because my father has bad nerves.” He is not kidding.

Set in South Jutland in 1971, the story concerns a family’s attempts to cope with a father’s repeated threats of suicide. When Allan (Jannik Lorenzen) learns that his dad Henry (Jesper Asholt), who’s the local milkman, experiences a sense of purpose after giving a eulogy for a business competitor’s son, he conspires so that his patriarchal father goes on livingand tormenting his family.

Dysfunctional may not be a sufficient or accurate term to describe the family members. There’s doom and gloom, hysteria, and pathos in the conduct of all of the protagonists. This which becomes clear in a scene in which they go from crying to laughing within seconds, in an act precipitated by a relative in bed, dying.
Allan’s sister Sanne (Julie Kolbeck) puts her hand on Dad’s crutch, whenever the old man gets depressed and starts crying, which is quite often. Allan is too young to understand what exactly goes on when the father calls for Sanne to come to his room downstairs; innocently, he even asks her to go.

Allan’s unsavory father is not only an incestuous child molestor, but a man who suffers from an inferiority complex, constantly bullying his children. Papa uses Allan to keep an eye on his daughter Sanne while dating a local boy.

Suffering from “psychic nerves,” Henry threatens to kill himself, and he gives the impression that his only drive to stay alive is to deliver eloquent euologies at the graveside, which mean, among other things, that loyal son Allan has to ensure that there is a steady flow of deaths andf funeralsthat kind of humor. In contrast, his wife (Hanne Hedelund) chooses to sedate herself with drugs into numbness. She’s a shy, weak, and submissive woman, who “allows” the abuse to continue by her failure to protestor to talk.

In other sequenecs, “Art of Crying” is a gentler pastoral tale, depicting ordinary life in a remote rural community, and suggesting that while physical isolation may encourage familial and comunal intimacy, but it also breeds loneliness, alienation, and lack of solid morality. Early on, Allan’s older brother moves out of the place (to keep his sanity)

Bo Hr Hansen’s script tries to present a subjective but nonjudgmental view of a boy who doesn’t realize there’s anything wrong with his family.

Schnau Fog positions the story between black comedy in the mode of Todd Solondz (specifically “Happiness”) and a more somber and sincere yarn. The dry humor may appeal to Nordic audiences, but I think American viewers (like me) will find the picture more depressing than enlightening.

Ultimately, “Art of Crying” is yet another semi-realistic, semi-humorous coming-of-age, which also might run the risk of inadvertently trivializing incest and child abuse.

Cast

With: Jannik Lorenzen, Jesper Asholt, Julie Kolbeck, Hanne Hedelund, Thomas Knuth-Winterfeldt, Gitte Siem Christensen, Rita Angela, Bjarne Henriksen, Sune Thomsen, Tue Frisk Petersen.

Credits

A Final Cut Film production.
Produced by Thomas Stenderup. Directed by Peter Schonau Fog. Screenplay, Bo hr Hansen, based on the novel by Erling Jepsen.
Camera (color), Harald Paalgard.
Editor: Anne Osterud.
Music: Karsten Fundal.
Art director: Soren Krag Sorensen.
Sound: Henry Michaelson, Peter Schultz.

Running time: 106 Minutes.