Flickering Lights (blinkende Lygter)

on December 31, 2007 by Michael Tunison
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Danish screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, acclaimed for his wrenching dramatic work in stripped-down Dogme 95 films such as the recent “Open Hearts,” heads into somewhat different storytelling territory in his directorial debut, the offbeat black comedy “Flickering Lights.” But while Jensen's idiosyncratic characters and bleakly beautiful rural Scandinavian settings are enough to pull a viewer into his world, the odd jumble of comic elements at the heart of “Lights” ultimately doesn't burn as brightly as one might wish.

A major hit in Denmark (where it was seen by a tenth of the population, according to publicity materials), the film follows a foursome of bumbling Copenhagen hoodlums who make a bigger-than-expected score on a robbery, then opt to flee the city without cutting in the dangerous gangster who sent them on the job. One of their number (Ulrich Thomsen from “The Celebration”) is wounded in the process, obliging them to stop for medical care in the countryside. Needing a cover story to explain their presence in the area, world-weary group leader Torkild (Søren Pilmark from Lar von Trier's “The Kingdom” series) comes up with the idea of pretending they've come to fix up an abandoned restaurant--an enterprise that quickly brings various eccentric locals out of the woodwork.

The film's main strengths are its well-drawn, ironic character bits and excellent ensemble, which includes “Open Hearts'” Mads Mikkelsen as a gun nut whose explosive temper has a way of worsening bad situations and Nikolaj Lie Kaas as a sweet-natured numbskull pining for his girlfriend. Unfortunately, Jensen loses some of his narrative momentum during the long, episodic-feeling middle section, especially with a series of unfunny flashbacks detailing how bizarre childhood traumas formed the characters of the four crooks. Since the ultimate direction of the gangster plot is obvious from the beginning, the filmmaker is counting on the freshness and unpredictability of such moments to keep us engaged--a gamble that pays off only modestly. Starring Søren Pilmark, Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Iben Hjejle. Directed and written by Anders Thomas Jensen. Produced by Tivi Magnusson and Kim Magnusson. A Rogue Arts release. Comedy. Unrated. Running time: 109 min.

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