Is there no end to the richness of Danish cinema? Just when Dogme has had its day and Lars Von Trier has become too big for his boots, comes another gem from Denmark. Ironically, although the Danes continue to refer to themselves as cold and, as one character says in “Villa Paranoia”, the FIPRESCI prizewinner, ‘Danes don’t laugh enough’, there is hardly a warmer and more humorous cinema.
“Villa Paranoia”, directed by Erik Clausen, a veteran of ten features since 1981, manages to explore various interlocking themes with an immediacy and clarity. At its heart is the bitter relationship between a seemingly senile and mute father (Fritz Helmuth) and his middle-aged bachelor son (the wonderfully stoical Clausen himself) who owns a chicken farm. In order to look after his increasingly difficult father, the son employs an out-of-work actress (played glowingly by Sonja Richter), who manages to bring the father out his torpor.
But nothing in this unpredictable film is what it seems, taking as it does its cue from Moliere’s “Le Malade Imaginaire”, an extract from which is seen, leading to a delightful game between the theatre and acting and the plot and reality. Most visually rewarding is the almost surreal use of a multitude of chicks, at one stage covering the old man’s bed in a dream. There is also much comedy to be had from a vulgar commercial for the son’s chickens which he calls Slicky Chicky, and from the sessions which the lonely son attends to make him more attractive to women.
Clausen brilliantly treads the fine line between comedy and drama, the latter includes a subtle criticism of Danish attitudes to refugees, and the old man’s retreat from life at the death of his wife (also played by Sonja Richter), who is seen in some “Wild Strawberry” moments. The ‘happy ending’ avoids both sentimentality and the ‘feel good’ factor that has spoiled some of the best of Scandinavian romantic comedies.
The main quality of the film is its demonstration of Jean Renoir’s comment in “La Règle de Jeu” that ‘Everybody has his reasons’. From the irascible old man to a not-very-bright young man, every character in this film is treated with equal understanding and perception – none of them is caricatured or patronised, a rare quality today when most films go in for broad strokes.
© FIPRESCI 2004