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If you're happy and you know it
Happy, Happy. Directed by Anne Sewitsky. Out in cinemas May 24.
What does it mean to be truly happy? Optimists always manage to see the good, even if this seems like an impossible task when there is always something to throw you off your game. So what happens when an eternal optimists world is challenged?
Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) is eternally happy.
Never mind the fact that her husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) refuses to have sex with her, her son thinks she is unattractive or that she is isolated in the middle of nowhere – she always has a positive outlook on life.
That is, until hip Danish couple Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) and Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) move in next door. Attractive, talented and foster parents of an Ethiopian child, their happiness makes Kaja question her own.
If you have seen a few foreign films in your time (I’m using this term loosely to include Western art house films) you know that these can have a polarizing effect. People either love them or hate them. Often, the film’s artistic techniques and bizarre off-the-wall storylines alienate an audience leaving them wondering what they hell it all means and relying on a film scholar to step in – pipe in one hand, Freudian theory in the other (FYI: That’s not me, I don’t smoke).
French art house films are classic for this. I studied films and I still don’t know what they mean. I recall falling asleep many times. I watched Happy, Happy a day after watching British indie flick Submarine on DVD and noticed a distinct difference in a foreign film that tries to be clever and succeeds and one that doesn’t.
Submarine, while interesting, was too indie for its own good and failed do to do exactly where Happy, Happy’s strength is: they told the human element of the story without getting bogged down by the rest.
Happy, Happy is by no means realistic – the characters are extreme personalities, clashing at every turn, getting into situations that often would not happen. It’s like reality TV when you know they have chosen the most outrageous family they could find.
Not trying to give a spoiler here, but example being how often do you comfort a crying woman with her immediately asking to give you a blow job while your wife is in the other room? Exactly. But despite this, the characters are relatable. Everyone has a difficult time in their relationship, compares themselves to other couples, struggles to raise their children and wishes they led a different life. The situation may be extreme, but the emotions are so human, so real it became a truly a touching film.
Anges Kittelsen is adorable. With a child-like innocence, she turns a blind eye to all that is wrong with her world, choosing to only see what she wants, and throwing an almighty crying fit when it doesn’t quite go to plan. She is by no means unattractive, but nothing compared to Elisabeth’s beauty, she is not the sharpest tool in the shed but she is not an idiot, and above all else she just wants to be loved and give her love in return. Surely that’s something we can all understand?
It’s not a one-man band and credit must be given to the four leads, who are all outstanding – humorous, hurtful and as I said, human.
Despite reading the marketing to be some kind of foreign ‘chick flick’, Happy, Happy was a surprisingly delightful film, exploring the complexity of all kinds of relationships and the ways we break them down to make sense of our own world.
Crowd pleaser? A naked run through the snow, as a moment of spontaneity that becomes a shocking scene to Kaja’s young son. I would stand and stare too if I saw that jumping around.
Stage dive? Norway’s weather. It looks freezing, like I think we have it bad, but seriously, I was getting cold in the cinema. Not a great poster for tourism.
Final curtain call? A perfectly balanced film, mixing comedy and tragedy in an exploration of the human condition – the journey to be truly happy with our own lives.
By Laura Weaser
6 May 2012