The Green Butchers (Anders Thomas Jensen). 95 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 11) at the Royal. See Indie & Rep Films, page 118. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
You'd think an update of Sweeney Todd would be both familiar and unambiguous. (The characters were even featured in a Warner Bros. cartoon, for crap's sake.)
But not at the hands of Anders Thomas Jensen. His muted style and plausible characterizations only make the grotesque story of two butchers who deal in human meat seem logical, nearly banal.
Mads Mikkelsen's murdering Svend, with his sweaty back and nightmarish haircut, makes perfect sense as the fiend. But it's Nikolaj Lie Kaas's technically impressive double turn as Svend's assistant, Bjarne, and Bjarne's mentally challenged younger brother, Eigil, that gives pause.
Why? Because in an American movie, expressing hostility toward a mentally challenged person without being seized immediately afterward by crushing regret is a sure sign of villainy, right? But not in this movie. Here, Eigil's disability leads directly to a credulity-straining plot twist that places him firmly in everyone's bad books. What to think?
Is Jensen being all Dogme and pushing our buttons (probable), or is there a stock mentally challenged character in Scandinavian cinema that means something entirely different from the American one (also possible)? In other words, should we be incensed?
It's enough to make a reviewer resort to platitudes.
The Green Butchers is a profound and moving meditation on memory, identity and loss.