Terribly Happy (Frygtelig lykkelig)
Terribly Happy may be the best pseudo-western film that Denmark has ever sent this way. It’s like if David Lynch had directed a fantastic western, and then Lars von Trier used his special breed of darkness to take it one step further. The result? A perfectly executed psychological thriller that takes place on the soggy plains of southern Denmark.
Our anti-hero is Robert Hansen, a federal marshall, sent to a one horse town named Skarrild as a punishment for some dark deeds in Copenhagen which are never fully revealed. Skarrild is a dirty, small town, full of tense, suspicious people. His first interaction with the towns people is when he’s called by the local store owner who’s caught a boy stealing. When Hansen attempts to arrest the boy, the store owner tells him with a sense of menace, “That’s not how we do things here.” His next job is dealing with Ingerlise, husband of the town bully. She’s either off her ass crazy, or the victim of domestic abuse. Only their daughter who avoids home by walking her stuffed animals in a baby carriage at all hours of the night. Oh, and if you cross the towns people, there’s a giant bog they make you walk into far enough until you disappear. The rotting marshlands complements the rotting characters freakishly well.
It’s quickly discovered that everyone has something to hide. Maybe even most of all the new marshall who’s past involves a nervous breakdown (known and exploited by the townspeople), and domestic violence that keeps his ex and daughter at bay.
In it’s portrayal of a small town closely knitted together by corruption and crime, it of course invites comparision to David Lynch, and even Michael Haneke’s recent The White Ribbon, but where Haneke’s film was intensely political, director Henrik Ruben Genz keeps his focus on fun. To call this a dark comedy may be misleading because you won’t be laughing out loud, but the humor keeps a strong undercurrent One of its finest examples is a showdown is called between Ingerlisa’s husband and the marshall as a marathon drinking contest in the town bar that is the focal point of the whole town (the bar, not the showdown).
The plot gets more and more desperate and the dread is palpable and you, like the marshall will fight it all at first, but then will accept what’s dealt with a resignation knowing it couldn’t have gone any other way. I can’t compliment Genz enough on his execution of the whole thing. It’s nearly flawless. And perfectly paired with cinematographer Jørgen Johansson who captured the a perfect sense of dread and gloom.