Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anne Sewitsky's HAPPY, HAPPY is a dark/funny dramedy about discovery

From today's earlier post about a threesome in Germany -- 3 -- we quickly move to the Norwegian film HAPPY, HAPPY about two couples exploring infidelity and happiness, sexual needs and the behavior that arises when these needs are not met. Director Anne Sewitsky's seemingly simple but actually rather complex look at two marriages relies for its impact on the characterizations at hand -- the screen-writing by Ragnhild Tronvoll and dramaturgy by Mette M. Bølstad (I'd love to learn the difference between these two credits) -- and on the extremely alert, finely-tuned moment-to-moment acting from the four leading performers.

Ms Sewitsky, pictured at right, and her writers, cast and crew have managed, on what I suspect was a pretty miniscule budget, to create an entire small environment -- a village, two families, stark weather, and most especially those needs -- out of the magic of a fertile imagination. That her film ends up being a kind of difficult romantic comedy, rather than a dark and troubling journey into Scandinavian angst relies on the tone the director manages to capture and on one performance in particular: that of actress Agnes Kittelsen (seen below and at top) in the role of Kaja.

I am not absolutely certain that Ms Kittelsen gets more screen time than anyone else (she probably does), but by force of her personality, energy and specificity, she controls the movie. It is hers to win or lose, and win it -- and us -- she does.

The tale begins as one couple, sophisticated urbanites ( Elizabeth, played by Maibritt Saerens, left, and Sigve, Henrik Rafaelsen, right) arrive at a country house they have rented from its owners (Ms Kittelsen and her husband Eirik, played by Joachim Rafaelsen, below, pummeling), who live in the house next door.

Shared dinners (below) ensue, and soon the reason for the city dwellers' vacation comes clear, which seems, in the mind of Kaja, at least, to offer the opportunity to serve some of her sexual needs. Each couple has a son: Kaja and Eirik's an adorable but not-so-nice blond kid, Liz and Sigve's a recently adopted Ethiopian named Noa. Under the guise of friendship, both the couples and their kids square off for passive-aggressive battle.

Singing figures into things, as well. The urbanites belong to a choral group, so Kaja, who has been told by her husband that she has no voice, invites them to joins the local choir (below) -- which leads to some surprises and one of the better uses of the old chestnut, Amazing Grace, that the movies have gifted us with in some time.

Throughout this quite short (85 minutes including credits) movie, you may be surprised by what happens and how but I doubt you'll question its veracity, so strong is each performance, particularly that of the lynch pin Ms. Kittelsen. Finding the truth of ourselves and what we need, the movie insists, is more important than sticking to society's usual regimen. (Even if, in Scandinavian countries, that regimen is a hell of a lot more tolerant, say, that what we'e increasingly stuck with here in the fake-Jesus/phony-morality land of America.)

For all its fun and would-be amusement, and for all the delight that Kittelsen brings to her unusual role, Happy, Happy is a movie that deals with subjects that could just as easily be sad, sad. That Ms Sewitsky keeps her film so finely balanced between the two, while remaining thoughtful and entertaining, is quite an accomplishment.

Happy, Happy, another good foreign film released by Magnolia Pictures, opens this Friday, September 16, in California at Regency's South Coast Village in Santa Ana and in West L.A. at the Landmark NuArt, and here in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and the Beekman.  Click here to see a listing of all scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

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