Sma Ulykker : Denmark 2002 : Annette K Olesen : 109 mins
Lygby, Denmark, the present day: A family is thrown into crisis by the sudden death of the mother, Ulla (Vigga Bro).Genial sixtysomething John (Jorgen Kill) adjusts to his newfound widower status by strengthening his relationship with his slightly scatty daughter Marianne (Maria Wurgler Rich) – to the point that Marianne’s sister Eva (Jannie Faurschou), a struggling artist, starts to consider potentially unhealthy. She voices her concerns to her businessman brother Tom (Henrik Prip), who has his own chaotic private life to deal with. Their uncle Soren (Jesper Christensen), meanwhile, is re-examining his marriage to Hanne (Karen-Lise Mynster), while Marianne finds herself tentatively drifting towards a relationship with a co-worker Martin (Oliver Appelt Nielsen).
In the last few years Denmark has led the world in the creative use of digital video, thanks to Lars Von Trier (Dancer In The Dark) and his Dogme disciples. So it’s doubly disappointing to find a first-time director from the country using DV as just a cheap, quick way of filming a script, her “film” ending up like what you’ll find on television any night of the week. Minor Mishaps does what it does reasonably well – it’s just been done so often before, by more talented writers such as Mike Leigh, whose presence hovers over almost every frame. The dissatisfied thirtysomething characters are all established ‘types’, and their interactions – often set to a tinkly piano accompaniment – are a little too bitter-sweet to be true.
As is often the case with DV, the medium’s rough edges impart a more life-like atmosphere, allowing the actors more room to breathe – but if there isn’t much directorial input on the visual side, as here, an extra burden ends up being placed on the performances. In Minor Mishaps, this means some scenes are conspicuously stronger than others: Kill fares best, keeping us uncertain about what lies beneath John’s relentlessly jokey exterior. The incest angle is, however, being over-used in films these days (from as far afield as Monsoon Wedding), as well as being an unfortunate reminder of Festen: Kill even looks a little like that classic’s dodgy dad Henning Moritzen. Minor Mishaps has none of that film’s bracing anarchic spirit – instead, we’re much closer to the strain of Scandinavian soft-headedness that torpedoed Lukas Moodysson’s Together.
While Wurgler Rich occasionally veers too close to caricature as John’s mildly ‘disconnected’ daughter, she does develop unexpected depth in the latter stages as we realise Marianne is actually much more in control of her life than her neurotic siblings. And while Eva is a tricky role which Faurshou never quite manages to make believable, Prip mines every scrap of humour out of the terminally time-pressured Tom, an only marginally more likeable cousin of The Icelandic Dream‘s boorish anti-hero. It helps that prip he shares many of his scenes with the very strong Julie Wieth and Petrine Agger (as his wife Lisbeth and secretary Britt respectively), though both are underused. His haiku-writing scene with slobby employee Mick, however, is Minor Mishaps‘ one comic bullseye – elsewhere, it lives up to that uninspiring title too often to seem anything other than a pretty minor sort of movie.
23rd March, 2002
(seen 10th February, Berlinale-Palast, Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)
by Neil Young
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