Anders Thomas Jensen presents his first directorial outing in a decade with Men & Chicken – a strikingly twisted, perverse piece of cinema, where calling it absurd would represent something of an understatement. But Jensen ensures this title does not survive solely off that notion, as this indelible feature comes equipped with a fascinating, engaging narrative to enrich the viewer’s experience.
Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) are brothers, but despite their relation could not be more different from one another, for while the former is an academic, the latter is endearingly simple (and endearingly misogynistic). When learning of their father’s death, they are shocked to discover that he wasn’t biologically their father after all, who they discover is a man still alive, and living on a hillbilly island. They decide to travel to this remote location, where they meet their other brothers Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Franz (Soren Malling) and Josef (Nicolas Bro), resulting only in a vulgar exchange of words and the sobering realisation that these backwards individuals can only be their relatives (the mutual cleft-lip helps). The one man they most want to meet, however, is their father – though it appears he’s as elusive a presence as the macabre scientific discoveries he’s working on deep down in the basement.
In spite of the sheer vulgarity, and the slapstick approach to humour, as we cover themes of bestiality, there’s something oddly profound about this picture, that studies the values of family. What helps matters tremendously are the nuanced performances, particularly by the magnanimous Mikkelsen, and while this feature is comedically inclined, each character – and particularly that of Elias – are deeply vulnerable, well-rounded creations. Through that there’s a distinct sadness that derives, and while we’re dealing with a film that is likely to have you laughing out loud shamelessly on many an occasion, it comes spiked with a certain poignancy, whereby you form an emotional connection to these brothers, despite fearing/despising so many aspects about them. But they’re evidently lonely, and that comes through in a striking fashion.
With the greatest respect, there’s something so unmistakably Scandinavian about this feature too, with a distinctively surrealist comedy that remains grounded throughout by its very human themes. Men & Chicken is a film you simply will not forget in a hurry, for it’s madcap, grotesque and completely, and utterly bizarre – in the most wonderful way possible.