Anders Thomas Jensen, Black comedy, Cannibalism, Denmark, Drama, Line Kruse, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Review, Svend & Co
Original title: De grønne slagtere
D: Anders Thomas Jensen / 100m
Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen, Line Kruse, Ole Thestrup, Bodil Jørgensen, Aksel Erhardtsen, Lily Weiding, Nicolas Bro, Camilla Bendix, Elsebeth Steentoft
Svend (Mikkelsen) and Bjarne (Kaas) are friends who work for their local butcher, Holger (Thestrup). Holger is a success thanks to the quality of his sausages, but he’s arrogant and treats the two friends as if they were idiots. But Svend has always wanted to open his own butcher’s shop in tandem with Bjarne, and when the opportunity presents itself, that’s exactly what he does. There’s a lot of work to do in getting the shop ready, including seeing to the electrics in the meat freezer. When the electrician carrying out the work is locked in the freezer overnight, Svend finds his body. But before he can do anything about it, Holger calls in with an order for a dinner party he’s having that evening. Svend obliges, but has to confess to Bjarne that he included fillets from the electrician’s leg in the order. The next day, the shop is besieged by customers, and though Svend promises the electrician is a one-off, the temptation to come up with other “donors” – and continue their success – proves too much for him to follow through on…
A low-key black comedy that adopts a largely matter-of-fact approach to its mildly anarchic narrative, The Green Butchers is an enjoyable romp that retains a subtlety of purpose at the same time as it throws a number of farcical elements into the mix as its story unfolds. Aside from the small matter of Svend & Co providing the kind of customer service Sweeney Todd would be proud of, there’s also the small matter of Bjarne’s twin brother, Eigil (Kaas), in a coma when we first meet him, and then running around and complicating matters. But just when Eigil’s vegetarianism and love of animals seems bound to reveal the truth about Svend & Co, the script pulls a fast one and his presence ends up jeopardising Bjarne’s budding romance with Astrid (Kruse), a local girl whose uncle just so happens to have eaten human flesh before (yes, really). While Bjarne tries to rebuild his life and move past a tragedy caused by his brother, Svend continues on a dark murderous spiral into insanity that shows no sign of halting. Thanks to their tortured pasts – Svend has never known love, even from his parents – both men become inured to what they’re doing.
That the movie never loses sight of their humanity and doesn’t make them look and feel like caricatures, is a testament to Jensen’s skill as a writer and director. Though the narrative does its best to wrong foot the viewer, much of it is foreseeable if not entirely predictable, and what few twists and turns there are, are handled with care and don’t overwhelm the storyline. As for Bjarne and Svend, they’re a likeable odd couple, with Bjarne’s laidback pothead demeanour a perfect foil for Svend’s arrogant, over-compensating nature. Svend is often unnecessarily spiteful, and Mikkelsen (with his severe hairstyle) makes him a wretch who’s almost incapable of good intentions, while Kaas gives full expression to the conflicting emotions Bjarne feels toward his brother. Both actors are on good form, and it’s a pleasure to watch them at work, while the dark humour and inherent absurdities of the plot are teased out with patience and skill by Jensen. It’s an amiable movie, content to avoid dwelling on the messier aspects of Svend & Co’s acquisition of its “chicken” products, and therefore lacking “bite”, but for a movie that concerns itself with murder and cannabalism, it’s also refreshing for its restraint and self-discipline.
Rating: 7/10 – there’s no shortage of laughs in The Green Butchers, but then its moral compass is more than a little off-kilter, and its two main characters delightfully adaptable to their predicament; perhaps a little too tame to make much of a dramatic impact, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable slice of Danish hokum, with winning performances and some knowing things to say about the pursuit of fame and success.