The Art of Crying Never Runs Dry By Miguel Somsen
The parents are having a discussion in the background, preventing the two kids, a boy and a girl, from going to sleep. Then, abruptly, the mother rushes back to the room, leaving the dad alone in the ground floor, whining loudly: “OK, I cannot take it anymore! If you want me to kill myself, I will kill myself!” But there’s always a bigger reason for the father not to commit suicide every night: he is too weak to really go for it. So, instead, he just lies in the couch and cries. He cries all night long. Unless someone — please — will do something to help. Eventually, someone will.
This is just the opening scene for The Art of Crying (Kunsten at Graede I Kor), a stunning debut by 35-year old Danish director Peter Schonau Fog. The rest of the movie, however, will go further and deeper into the soul and guts of a straight-forward small town family from Denmark. But not so “straight forward” as it may seem: the movie was shot in such a remote part of Denmark that the copies shown in Copenhagen will require Danish subtitles.
Later on, as the older brother returns home for the weekend, the reality bites. Although he may be studying architecture in the big city, he knows nothing about keeping this small “foundation” standing. In his abscence, his younger siblings alone will have to create (or recreate) their own structure for the time being — on a daily and nightly basis. In fact, they have been doing it for ages: every time the dad starts crying, the kid calls on her sister to go downstairs and comfort the father, so that “he won’t kill himself again”. When the girl refuses, the boy will have to comply. Eventually, as time fades and the movie shines, we will learn the true meaning of “comforting” to this family.
Like the child-protagonist Allan (the actor Jannik Lorenzen, fragile and outstanding), in the beginning of The Art of Crying we are also the innocent. Yes, we haven’t seen nothing yet. But rapidly, as adults, we will draw our own conclusions; or recoil easily into our safety cocoons, with our eyes and minds closed. The kid, on the other hand, is alone and helpless, too busy trying to save this family to know any other way. Innocence, in this case, means a total inability to judge the characters and their actions, to separate the wrong-doing from the moral virtue, the alcohol from the syrup. This ostensive lack of responsibility enables the movie to shift gracefully from tragedy to comedy, from the hardcore to the gentle. In a lighthearted sequence, the director introduces us to some minor characters (the grocer, the aunt, the boyfriend) whose development only slightly serves the purpose of the main storyline. I recall a brilliant scene where the kid informs the local clergyman that his sobbing father will say a eulogy for the funeral of the grocer’s son (which happens to be his rival too). The speech is a huge success, provoking the tears of anyone present in the ceremony. Finally, the kid finds a purpose to his father’s sadness. But the result is a comic relief, a juxtaposition of black-humoured wit and sorrow, of misery and joy. The sequence defines the tone of The Art of Crying, the icing on the cake, a tragedy laughing out loud, with self-pity never turning into self-indulgence. This is what I call a movie to cry for.