A surprisingly fierce undercurrent of violence runs through “Villa Paranoia,” subversively interrupting the feel-good vibe and giving pic a more nuanced flavor than the average crowdpleaser. Both a critique of frigid Scandinavian relationships as well as a rallying cry for self-fulfillment, writer-helmer Erik Clausen cleverly weaves in Moliere’s classic satire “The Hypochondriac” as a way of commenting on the need to recognize the humanity and weakness in all. A popular winner of the Fipresci critics’ award at Taormina, pic had a modest success on Danish screens on February release. Good marketing could push this into limited art house play offshore.
Down-at-heel actress Anna (Sonja Richter) is having no luck finding decent roles, and her more successful friend, Olga (Sidse Babett Knudsen), wants her out of the house. When chicken farmer Jorgen (helmer Clausen) offers Anna a live-in job taking care of his elderly father, Walentin (veteran Frits Helmuth), she accepts the chance to take a break and recover her self-esteem.
Walentin, with unkempt hair and watery eyes, is stuck in a wheelchair, mutely glaring at the world and lashing out at caregivers. Anna refuses to brook any nonsense, and sets about taming the unruly patient by searching for what lies beneath the silent anger. Gently but firmly she counters his stony resistance, and discovers he can speak and walk.
Son Jorgen has no interest in his father’s well being. As a boy he was treated with coldness, and now in middle age his greatest concern is finding a mate who can ease his intense loneliness. He tries taking lessons in loosening up, and enrolls in courses on attracting women. In arresting images that combine pathos with humor, Clausen stands in his factory surrounded by chickens and practices guffawing with distinctly unconvincing laughs.
Clausen deftly manages to give equal weight to the Anna/Walentin tale and Jorgen’s crippling loneliness. Anna discovers that Walentin’s wife killed herself: Guilt and anger continue to haunt him, so in a role-playing dinner of unusual potency she tries with the help of anger-management candidate Kenneth (Soren Westerberg Bendtsen) to exorcise the demons.
Pic’s dark side is reflected in Jorgen’s simmering desperation for love. If Anna represents redemption, Jorgen is the troubled figure trying to right a lifetime’s worth of hurt and isolation. This intense need breaks out when he rapes a Bosnian immigrant (Zita Djenes), whom he’s hired to work in the chicken factory.
The multihyphenate Clausen plays Jorgen as if his frozen exterior can no longer withstand the mounting pressures inside, capturing the urge for expression in a country renowned for its unemotional front. As Anna, the delightful Richter has an impish grin that reflects intelligence rather than mere goofiness. The character is constantly taking on roles, looking for a way to feel comfortable in her own skin.
Tech credits are first rate throughout, although the occasional close-ups of the insides of bodily organs and sperm swimming up canals are visual devices that need to be retired.