Movie review: Happy Happy (+trailer)

By Peter Calder

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A scene from Norwegian film Happy Happy. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Norwegian film Happy Happy. Photo / Supplied

The English title of this Sundance-honoured Norwegian domestic melodrama may seem to nod at Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, but the original - which means something like "pathologically happy" - points in a different direction.

Unlike the English film's Poppy, the central character here is a woman for whom happiness does not come naturally; it's an act of supreme will and watching the almost-physical effort it costs her is not always comfortable.

Kaja (Kittelsen), who lives in a small country town with her emotionally musclebound husband Eirik (Rafaelsen) and their young son Theodor (Brandso), spends most of her life pretending everything is fine. The fragility of her self-deception is exposed early on when Eirik repays her bedtime advances with a blistering verbal assault, but even that's not enough to break her fixed smile.

When new neighbours move in, Kaja senses the possibility of rescue. Elisabeth (Saerens) and Sigve (Rafaelsen), who have adopted an Ethiopian orphan, are refugees from the city, though quite what they're fleeing is not apparent until, at a dinner party they play a risque and revealing board game.

What unfolds between these four is best not disclosed, though it's worth mentioning that publicity presenting the film as a Norwegian sex romp is a lot less than half true. There some very funny moments in it, but the laughs turn more sour than they are intended to, I suspect. Meanwhile, the point of a plainly satirical subplot in which the two boys play master and slave is at best obscure.

Sewitsky, making her feature debut, is plainly a filmmaker of talent but the film doesn't quite have the courage of its convictions, particularly in the limp, sentimental ending. It's entertaining and very good-hearted but, like Kaja, its smile sometimes feels a bit forced.

Stars: 3.5/5
Cast: Agnes Kittelsen, Joachim Rafaelsen, Maibritt Saerens, Henrik Rafaelsen, Oskar Hernaes Brandso
Director: Anne Sewitsky
Running time: 88 mins
Rating: R16 (sex scenes) In Norwegian with English subtitles
Verdict: Swinging in the snow.


- NZ Herald

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