Men and Chicken (Moend og Hons)Anders Jensen (2015 Dk)David Dencik; Mads Mikkelsen
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 19 July 2016; ticket: £9:15
Mawk and skwark and orcs
Anders Jensen’s Men and Chicken gives the impression that as a director he may have been influenced by watching too many Scandi-noir TV fillers.
Men and Chicken is a Danish noir comedy and shows its Danish TV provenance in the way it is structured by drawing on the lessons of these successful dark toned audience pleasers such as the Bridge (to which Jensen sort of gives homage in one peninsula island shot repeated several times).Its scenario is built around one key input idea which is embedded deeply into the scripting ; the key characters are all deeply flawed and have signature facial expressions,looks which are directed both inwardly and outwards and which are inscrutably Nordic.
Whilst this structural format may work OK with a weekly TV serial format, it is harder to make it work for a one off feature film. This format of TV serial slowly builds up to the ‘big secret’ that lies at the cancerous heart ofits scenario.To maintain interest and to develop its characters, a TV scenario works through sub plots counter plots parallel plots and side plots, engaging the audience in distractions, ambiguities and red herrings all the while moving portentously towards its mega exposure. On the small screen the facial tics of the actors, the monopacing, together with the banality of the editing and shooting style can be carried through by a scripting/editing style which uses multiple parallel stories (in the various guises of sub plotting) to shift energy and hold audience attention.These TV pot broilers are designed /intended for broad durational parameters to take up multiple TV scheduling slots.They work mainly through stylistic intensity and the complexity of their narrative strands.
Condensed into feature film length rather than a 5/6hour TV sleep over, Men and Chicken looks like a one trick pony, and at the end when the trick is revealed, it’s not very convincing.
Jensen opens his film, with some egg shots and with the voice of a girl who in fairy tale style tones explains over picture that this is the story of brothers to whom nature hadn’t dealt the best cards.Jensen seems to be trying to cast the film as a fairy tale or perhaps archetype myth (Thanatos the father figure is one of the Greek bringers of death; and Ork the name of the island where the action happens is a fictional humanoid creature that is part of a fantasy race akin to goblin.)But nothing in the film works as myth or fairy tale.And when the girls voice is heard for the second time, it is at the end of the film, where her voice makes a non mythic type of plea for acceptance of diversity.A plea with is in line with political correctness but not with fairy tale or myth.
The use of the young girl’s voice and her dissociation with anything seen in the film points to Jensen’s insecurity with his material. He doesn’t know what film he is making. Is is a comedy, a horror movie, a buddy movie sci-fi movie or whatever? Jensen tries to cover all bases and ends with a production that is simply tendentious and doesn’t feel like it is about anything.Hence perhaps the mawkish summary at the end, a desperate attempt to salvage something in the sphere of contemporary ethics.
Unable to focus clearly, Men and Chicken instead plumps out its script.The scenario is pumped up with obsessive masturbation and vomiting, bestiality, mutantcy, cosmetic prosthetics for the actors, the idea of a slightly deranged or simple class of island dwelling people, a boys’ excursion to the nursery.None of this material is developed enough to sustain interest.
Along other filmic dimensions Jensen’s film has few qualities. The shooting/editing of the film is conventional shot/reverse shot, and adds nothing to style.And the acting, for all the prosthetic work carried on the actors faces, never rises above the one dimensional.Perhaps had more thought been given to mutations that could not be seen, either psychic or somatic…there might have been a more interesting movie. But that movie would probably be better made with the imagination of Lars von Trier.
Men and Chicken ends up a dull movie.In another life time, the idea with intricate multi-phased elaboration in a closed community, might have made very good TV fodder.