"The Art of Crying": The Art of Balancing By Annika Koppel

in 25th Reykjavik International Film Festival

by Annika Koppel

Danish helmer Peter Schønau Fog’s tragic-comedy The Art of Crying (Kunsten at græde i kor, 2006) deals with the delicate and dark matter of child abuse in a family, where the father terrorizes all of its members with his constant crying and suicide threats.

Bo Hr. Hansen wrote the screenplay, which is based on a novel by Erling Jepsen. The story is told through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy Allan (Jannik Lorenzen). He is one of those witty boys, with big glasses, who not only observes the world around him curiously but is ready to take some action if needed. He adores his father, as children usually do, although the father obviously has some serious mental problems. His mother seems to not notice anything and sleeps, when help is needed. Allan wants him to be happy. The father likes to recite eulogies at funerals and that is the real art of crying. Allan even lends him a helping hand to make sure there are enough funerals and that his father would be happy. At least, he imagines he does.

Allan also insists that his bigger sister Sanne (Julie Kolbech) goes downstairs to comfort his father when he is crying. Their big brother has already moved away. When he visits the family, it begins to become clear what kind of comforting is needed. The eleven-year-old boy is innocent and poignant in his belief that the world of grown-ups is normal and good in every sense although the surroundings do not support this. For example, his aunt has turned out to be like a caricature; the father’s birthday and family get-together is a real mess — these are the comic moments of the film. Nobody listens to the others and finally the dad cries again.

Jannik Lorenzen is very good in Allan’s role; Jesper Asholt plays a credible monster-pervert father. The mother’s character raises some questions, which is not to say that she has no character at all as she does have a tired “leave me alone” attitude. Only the episode where she helps Sanne to get ready for the party suggests how tightly she has been controlled by the father.

The film shows step-by-step how the boy’s understanding of good and evil will increase and he begins to notice that his father’s crying is the reason for the others’ discomfort. The father makes his daughter’s emerging relationship with Per (Sune Thomsen)fail, sends Allan to supervise their meeting and after that complains to the police. This is a turning point when Allan’s devotion to dad starts to crumble.

The story is beautifully told in the film; there is nothing redundant or trivial. It has been difficult to handle a subject that has been taboo for a long time in a way that would not leave the audience disturbed and frightened, or even disgusted. That was not the purpose. On the other hand, there was a big risk that it would turn into comedy — fortunately this did not happen. Fog artfully balances between these two extremes, keeping a sensible and delicate approach, mixing humor, grief, violence, manipulation and hypocrisy into a bitter cocktail of realism. It has been a real art of balancing.

The director believes that this film is a chance to address the serious subject matter of child abuse in a way that people could not turn away from, by telling the story in the tone and viewpoint of a young boy. It’s true, that this subject matter is far too important to be ignored and maybe his hope to be able to create awareness about a huge problem within families finally proves fruitful. This problem can only be solved if someone dares to take on the responsibility to rise up, interact and talk out loud.
Peter Schønau Fog has said it loud. Even if the film does not change the world, this is at least considerable reason for making a film. Definitely The Art of Crying is a good film and a memorable debut.