It's a mystery how Peter Schonau Fog manages to combine child abuse, a study of a rural community, affecting tragedy and black comedy into a satisfying whole, but in "The Art of Crying" he pulls it off. A gently offbeat study of a Jutland family in the early 1970s as seen through the merciless, innocent gaze of an 11 year-old boy, this refreshingly unconventional pic tackles its taboos with
compassion, grace and wit.
Jonathan Holland, Variety

Emotionally devastating and astonishingly mature, this is a unique feature debut. Steve Gravestock, Toronto International Filmfestival

A young Scandinavian genius tackles Bergmanesque themes of family taboos and relationships with pathos, humor, and a loving eye. Chiseko Tanaka, Tokyo International Film Festival

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Some Habits are Meant to be Broken


Extended version:

Danish director Peter Schønau Fog has accomplished a great feat. He has taken a tragic film about depression and molestation and infused freshness and humor.

The Art of Crying is based on Erling Jepsen's novel about a rural South Jutland family in 1971. Their home life could not be worse, but youngest son Allan does not comprehend what surrounds him. However, when older brother Asger comes home from college, he is resentful of Asger's escape.

The family falls into an exhausting routine. To sum up the good days, Allan states, "When dad is happy, he forgets to kill himself." The bad days are something else. Father Henry argues with his wife regarding what a lousy person he is while threatening to end his life, and when she tires of this game Allan tries to cheer him up. As a last but all too common resort, Allan sends his 14-year-old sister downstairs to comfort their father, completely unaware of what that entails.

The story is narrated by Allan though his viewpoint is blurred. With the constant attention his dad requires to contain his depression, Allan guards him like a bulldog. He is young enough to
still be naïve, but on the brink of realizing all is not well. Jannik Lorenzen makes his film premiere in the role, and captures the character with a fierce rawness, shedding any possibility for pity.

Allan wishes harm on anybody who belittles his father, and surprisingly, this is where the humor is inserted. He discovers that his father gains confidence while delivering a eulogy and causing everyone else to cry for a change. Therefore, Allan surmises, his father's happiness must come from the death of others.

As he wishes his dad's grocery competitor ill and slides too many pills towards his ailing aunt, there is humor in his efforts. Sadly, he does not realize the irony of killing for a man who always
threatens to kill himself. But Allan has only ever known one purpose in life, and that is to ensure that his father lives to see the next day.

Allan's sister Sanne is portrayed by another first-time film actor, and Julie Kolbech superbly captures the young girl at the state when reason is edging its way into habit. Struggling to break free and enjoy life, every new experience is shattered by her jealous father. Each sibling is in a different stage of comprehension and thus coping while their mother watches in resignation. Jesper Asholt portrays Henry as an exposed nerve. He is not evil – he thinks his actions are
performed out of love, but they are the wrong actions and he clearly needs help.

Fog raises concern for a dreadful situation while allowing the film to be quite watchable. As protective as Allan is of his father, the viewer becomes protective of the little boy, hoping that he will realize some habits are meant to be broken.