Rookie Danish scribe-helmer Mikkel Munch-Fals affectingly explores the relationship between sexuality and loneliness in “Nothing’s All Bad,” which thoughtfully tackles quite a few thorny issues that would trip up lesser filmmakers. Pic focuses on four Danes of different ages whose stories intersect (often, as it turns out, in ironic ways), making for a tonally complex, thematically wide-ranging yet structurally compact item. Pic won a special mention at the San Sebastian fest, where it was part of the Zabaltegi New Directors lineup, and further fest travel should be good, with an off chance of Euro pickups.
Pic is divided into several chapters whose titles come from common idiomatic phrases (the first is called, “My Wiring Has Always Been a Bit Off,” which is what one of the protags says to his shrink when asked to explain his strange behavior). Given the tightly drawn plotlines and superb editing, this artificial superstructure is not really necessary, with the exception of the film’s prologue and epilogue, which contain a separate, quietly poignant tale that is related to the main story only on a thematic level; its inclusion signals the helmer’s willingness to experiment with narrative form while keeping the film’s contents very much of a piece.
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A beautiful woman in her 30s, Anna (Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt), goes through the difficult process of having a breast removed. Munch-Fals explains everything in a striking overhead shot of Anna as she sits naked in the tub with only one breast left. Later, another arresting shot conveys worlds of sadness and pain as Anna uses two mirrors to make it appear as though she has two breasts again.
During a walk in the park, Anna is confronted with clammy, bespectacled Anders (Henrik Prip), who can’t control his urges to expose himself. Anders’ young son, the impossibly handsome Jonas (Sebastian Jessen), has so much natural sex appeal even prostitutes pay to take him to bed. Both dad and son clearly have sexuality-related issues that have warped their personalities in strange yet understandable ways.
The father-son pairing is neatly mirrored, as the elderly woman we’ve spied in some early scenes, Ingeborg (Bodil Jorgensen), turns out to be Anna’s mother. Ingeborg has to work hard to fight the loneliness following her retirement and the unexpected death of her hubby.
Both Ingeborg and Anna struggle to cope with something that defined their sexuality but has suddenly become absent, while the two men wrestle with the opposite, as their sexuality is defined by urges and factors beyond their own comprehension and control. Though the protags’ struggles are treated seriously, Munch-Fals often looks at their lives at a somewhat ironic remove, not only in the mise-en-scene and dialogue but also in the surprising ways the stories intersect.
Strong thesps play everything completely straight, ensuring that the uncomfortable places the film goes feel like necessary stops for their characters (some of the themes treated here were already present in the helmer’s shorts). Pic might gain an NC-17 rating Stateside for some of its topics, but most of the actual sex occurs offscreen.
Though there are two clear parent-child relationships, the four protags all seem to be pretty much alone with their problems, which Munch-Fals exploits to the max in the deliciously ironic Yuletide-set finale.
Dark lensing by Eric Kress (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) favors medium shots and closeups that stay close to the actors, adding a slightly claustrophobic edge that works well. Other tech contribs are fine.
Danish title wasn’t translated onscreen, though press material refers to the pic as “Nothing’s All Bad.” Original title roughly translates as “Beautiful People.”