Friday, 10 June 2011


HAPPY, HAPPY,-happy/

I'm not sure what the buzz was for Happy, Happy, my second Norwegian film of the Festival, but the audience which turned out for the Friday morning screening noticeably skewed to the post-55 demographic. Indeed, the entire middle floor section of Event Cinemas Cinema 4 was reserved, seemingly, for residents of Sydney's retirement homes, bussed in for a nice day out.

And I'm sure they would have enjoyed the frisky goings-on in Anne Sewitzky's directorial debut. "Filthy, but genuinely arousing" as the old lady on The Simpsons might say, although Happy, Happy isn't all that sexual: it's Norwegian, not Swedish, after all.

Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) and Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) haven't had sex for over a year, a marital factoid which comes to light during a post-dinner game party with new neighbours, Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and Sigve (Rafaelsen), whose relationship isn't as perfect as it seems; the pair having moved to the country following Elisabeth's brief affair with another man.

And it's not too long before Kaja and Sigve are conducting an affair of their own, while Eirik grows ever distant from his perennially happy wife. It comes as no surprise when we learn that Eirik's fondness for watching the wrestling on TV isn't just a yearning for his high school glory days. And Elisabeth, well Elisabeth goes AWOL for a good part of the film but certainly makes her presence felt when Sigve's affair becomes apparent.

All of these complications are handled rather lightly by Lewitsky despite the serious emotions at play. And all four actors - Kittelsen's too-happy Kaja, Rafaelsen's dour Eirik, Saeren's cool Elisabeth, and Rafaelsen's can't-believe-his-luck Sigve - are impressive. That's probably one of the reasons why it won the World Cinema Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. That and the Americans were no doubt impressed by a mature but fun approach to sex, something Hollywood often struggles with.

But not all of Happy, Happy worked for me. The sub plot involving the couples' children, whereby Kaja and Eirik's son treats Elisabeth and Sigve's adopted African son like a slave - a commentary on the unnecessary cruelty we inflict on others? - I didn't find necessary. Same goes for the male vocal quartet who appeared sporadically as some kind of Greek Chorus, which felt like a first time filmmaker's conceit that should have been cut during the second draft of writing.

But overall, Happy, Happy succeeds. And so do the Norwegians, who are now two-for-two at this year's Festival.

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