It’s a mystery how Peter Schonau Fog manages to combine child abuse, a study of a rural community, affecting tragedy and black comedy into a satisfying whole, but in “The Art of Crying” he pulls it off. A gently offbeat study of a Jutland family in the early 1970s as seen through the merciless, innocent gaze of an 11 year-old boy, this refreshingly unconventional pic tackles its taboos with compassion, grace and wit.
Item plays too many dangerously non-P.C. games to expect universal approval, but “Crying” could bring a smile to the faces of fest auds prepared to take its genre-bending and ethical risk-playing on their own terms.
Pic is divided into six sections, each focusing on a different character. Moustachioed milkman and pathetic monster Papa (Jesper Anholt), continually breaking down in tears and threatening suicide, is married to long-suffering Mama (Hanne Hedelund). They have three kids: bespectacled, blinking Allan (Jannik Lorenzen, terrific), troubled Sanne (Julie Kolbeck), and student Asger (Thomas Knuth-Winterfeldt).
Whenever Papa breaks down in tears at night, it’s Sanne’s job to go downstairs and console him — encouraged by Allan, concerned for his father’s well-being. On a visit home, Asger discovers what this consolation actually entails, but the emotionally numb Mama is not prepared to admit it.
Knowing that Papa is happiest when delivering over-the-top funeral elegies, Allan prays his father’s hated rival, Grocer Budde (Bjarne Henriksen), will die, and Budde’s son Nis (Tue Frisk Petersen) is duly killed in a car crash. Allan also indirectly causes the death of Aunt Didde (Gitte Siem Christensen). When Sanne finds a boyfriend, Per (Sune Thomsen), Papa is insanely jealous, and his punishment of Sanne leads her to take terrible revenge.
Years of isolation have meant this community has created its own, bizarre moral rules. The vast, deadening expanses of landscape are effectively portrayed, as are the insular rituals of Jutland life, largely built around repressive Protestantism — one scene, involving the boy’s funeral, ironically has a speech by Papa unlocking the village’s emotions in an outpouring of grief.
Pic’s bleakness is leavened by lovely observational, surreal humor, mostly generated by using Allan’s p.o.v. — through his innocent eyes, everything that is happening is quite normal. The script controls mood with great precision, expertly negotiating the tragicomic tightrope: tastelessness is never an issue. Perfs are fine, particularly from the blank-faced Lorenzen and vet Asholt, though on a couple of occasions, he allows the excesses of Papa’s character to descend into caricature.
On the downside, some scenes are overlong, with unnecessary time devoted to characters such as Aunt Didde who are ultimately marginal.