Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Happy, Happy: Domestic Bliss in Norway

Even by Scandinavian standards, Kaja’s provincial home is cold, snowy, and remote. It ought to be conducive for some quality time with her husband Eirik, but he is not interested in her anymore. Fortunately, one of their new neighbors is. It is a case of adultery Norwegian-style in Anne Sweitsky’s Happy, Happy (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Elisabeth and Sigve look like the perfect couple to Kaja. Sophisticated city professionals with an adopted Ethiopian son, they seem to have it all, even singing talent. However, their marriage is going through a rocky patch. Resolving to get past her “brief, meaningless” affair, they have moved out to nowheresville, where there will be no distractions as they work to rebuild their relationship, or not. There is Kaja though, who idolizes Elisabeth, and is delighted when Sigve appreciates her attentions.

Before long, Kaja and Sigve are carrying on rather openly in front of the kids, while Elisabeth is shifting into serious ice-shrew mode. As for Eirik, he is also interested in the new neighbors, but not in a way that would maintain the expected symmetry, if you follow.

Actually, it is not quite as naughty as it all might sound, though Happy’s very cool French one-sheet faithfully captures a memorable episode. Essentially, Sewitsky presents two couples as they struggle to decide whether their marriages are worth saving, in rather dramedic fashion. However, her scenes with the two young sons engaged in a long-running racially-charged game of “slave,” are pointlessly provocative, pushing all sorts of hot buttons, but never paying off in any meaningful way. Still, the odd Nordic-country-chorale music (including “Careless Love”) helps lighten the mood, setting an effectively eccentric atmosphere.

Somehow, Agnes Kittelsen is both creepy and endearing as the compulsively eager to please Kaja. Maibritt Saerens also brings genuine human dimensions to the sharp-elbowed Elisabeth. The guys (adults and kids) on the other hand, are a rather dull, colorless lot.

Surprisingly, Happy does not exactly wrap everything up neatly and tidily, though it definitely ends on what is intended to be a crowd pleasing note. Indeed, its optimistic messiness serves it well. While a mixed bag, it is overall a pleasant if not essential viewing experience. Recommended for those who prefer their international cinema on the quirky side, Happy opens this Friday (9/16) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.