26th Sep2015

LFF 2015: ‘Men & Chicken’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: David Dencik, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Soren Malling, Nicolas Bro, Rikke Louise Andersson, Lisbet Dahl | Written and Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

men-chicken-cast

Looking for all the world like an absurd family farce directed by David Cronenberg (albeit in Danish), Men & Chicken certainly gets points for its commitment to oddness. Its premise sees two brothers, Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) and Gabriel (David Dencik), travel to a remote island with a scant population to find their biological father after the recently-deceased man who raised them reveals their origins in a poorly-framed confessional video. They’re both in sorry states – Gabriel is a lonely, unsatisfied university lecturer and Elias is a chronic masturbator who goes on dates with therapists to avoid exorbitant fees – but they’re positively well-adjusted compared to the three feral, idiosyncratic half-brothers they find waiting for them on the island of Ork.

A tragic if broad comedy of emotional failures at first, Men & Chicken soon reveals itself as a quirk-ridden journey into the trials families put each other through. This presents itself largely by having grown men hit one another with cast-iron pots, planks of wood and taxidermied swans. It is an obnoxiously weird film, and your mileage may vary on how much of that you’ll actually find amusing.

As the title implies, the film focuses on the relationships between men and animals, both in terms of co-habitation (the mens’ house is overrun with livestock, some of which appear to be mutant hybrids of different species) and some more literal interpretations of the word ‘relationship’. The twist that’s hinted at variously throughout the movie isn’t difficult to figure out, but writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen keeps us held in the world of idiot man-children for so long that it starts to feel like the whole mystery is something of a red herring.

Eventually, however, our big questions are answered, accompanied by no short supply of offbeat shenanigans (a romantic trip to the local retirement home, a Bible study group that’s intended to promote independent thought) to soften the dramatic blow of what should by all rights be a truly disturbing discovery. Much of the audience with whom I saw the film was in hysterics at the characters’ antics, but there was a vein of profound sadness in each of their performances that was too much for even a Brit like me, and by the time the credits rolled on what is objectively a happy ending for all involved I couldn’t help thinking that none of what I’d just seen should be celebrated.

That said, Men & Chicken is admirably weird – though it tries a little too hard sometimes, especially in Mads Mikkelsen’s uber-neurotic performance – and justifies itself on the LFF slate by simply being unlike anything else on show. I didn’t quite warm to it like others, but maybe I just wasn’t ready for how much bestiality, genetically-modified farm animals and wank jokes there would be in this film.

Men & Chicken is showing at the BFI London Film Festival, which runs from 7-18 October. Click here for more information and tickets.

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