Having decided that something’s gone rotten in the state of Denmark, the government starts executing welfare abusers, tax dodgers and undesirables in Danish black comedy “How to Get Rid of the Others.” Such a high concept might have made for a timely and caustic satire, but unfortunately script by helmer Anders Ronnow Klarlund (“Strings”) and thesp Rasmus Botoft lacks bite and bile, despite a strong first hour. Still, fest programmers and niche distribs in search of offbeat Scandie fare might be able to figure out how to make “How to… ” work. Domestic take after Jan. 26 opening was modest.
After the arrival of martial law, the Danish military is rounding up people who fall under the description of the “New Copenhagen Criteria,” which means anyone who hasn’t paid their taxes, has scammed the system for gain, or has been a drain on the State.
Apart from a country-set prologue and a few flashbacks and excursions later on, plot unfolds mostly within the confines of a commandeered elementary school in a barely distant future. In the playground outside, assorted prisoners have been detained in Guantanamo Bay-style wire cages. In the gym inside, eight people await interrogation, including welfare-mooch Belinda (Louise Mieritz).
One by one, they’re brought in an upstairs classroom for questioning by Major Christian Andersson (Soren Pilmark), whose activities are being observed by a mealy-mouthed member of Parliament, Folke (Soren Fauli). In a gleefully ruthless early scene, Andersson forces artist-cum-bureaucrat Ole (Tommy Kenter) to confess to wasting government funds before summarily shooting him in the head.
Turns out Belinda is actually a former civil servant named Sidse, who was responsible for drafting the Criteria. Horrified by what she’s wrought, she’s joined a group of rebels and tries to help her fellow detainees escape execution by coaching them on a legal loophole.
Pic’s central conceit resonates with current European and North American anxieties about the health of welfare societies and political repression. The juxtaposition between the school’s cheerful classrooms and the brutality taking place within them is particularly effective. In the early stages, the pic almost feels like a low-budget, Scandie rethink of “Children of Men” played for dark, bitter laughs.
However, unable to opt for action pyrotechnics due to budget restrictions, and seemingly incapable of pushing the satire to some full-blooded extreme, script settles uneasily into pallid melodrama with weak comic notes. The focus settles disappointingly on Sidse/Belinda’s crisis of conscience and the improbable last act revelation of a connection between Folke and two of the prisoners.
Thesp Pilmark, typecast yet again as the heavy here, hits just the right, slightly-over-the-top comic-tragic note, as does Lene Tiemroth as a sozzled senior citizen. Thesping is ropier elsewhere.
Despite his script’s shortcomings, Klarlund helms with style and demonstrates once again, after the puppet-peopled oddity “Strings,” an intriguingly eccentric sensibility.
Use of African-sounding music adds atmosphere, and tech package is adequate.