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'Mifune' is an upbeat treat

Friday, May 05, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

This is a Danish you can sink your teeth into -- a tasty treat of a film shot in six weeks on an abandoned farm in Denmark, featuring four totally original characters and no guns or murders.


Rating: R for sex and language

Players: Anders W. Berthelsen, Iben Hjejle, Jesper Asholt

Director: Soren Kragh-Jacobsen

Web site:

Critic's call: 3 1/2 stars


You thought "Mifune" was Japanese? He was. But his great role in "Seven Samurai" is the obsessive game of a mentally retarded farmhand named Rud (Jesper Asholt). His city-slicker brother Kresten (Anders Berthelsen) is forced to return and deal with him following the sudden death of their father.

The timing is very inconvenient for Kresten: He was just married the night before -- having told his bride he had no living relatives. What to do with Rud? He advertises for a housekeeper and comes up with beautiful, sexy Liva (Iben Hjejle) -- on the lam from her pimp in Copenhagen (and a mysterious obscene phone caller), while trying to keep her obnoxious little brother in boarding school.

None of them are cut out for farm work, which doesn't matter much because this farm hasn't produced anything agricultural for years. What it does produce, though, is a temporary hideout from the lies and lures of "real" life in the city.

Jesper Asholt's superb performance as simple-minded Rud puts Cliff Robertson's overrated "Charly" to shame: a child in an aging man's body, more idiot than savant, full of pathos but never pathetic. He shows up with lit sparklers at his dad's funeral, and nobody thinks it particularly odd. Everything makes insane sense to him: The cat has no name, he tells Liva; it used to be named Freja, but it wouldn't come when they called it, so they took the name away.

When Rud spends all the family money on lotto-scratchcards, Kresten is furious -- until one of the cards turns up a big winner.

Berthelsen and Hjejle are wonderful together -- attracted, repelled, reticent -- in a most believably evolving manner. She is some kind of delicious cross between a blonde Jamie Lee Curtis and a Scandinavian Jane Fonda from "Klute." Bratty little brother Bjarke (Emil Tarding), once he makes his late entrance, virtually steals the show. And the climactic surprise visit of Kresten's ever-so-urban wife is a delight worth waiting for.

Beautifully directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, "Mifune" is the third film from the Danish Dogma Collective (Thomas Vinterberg's "The Celebration" and Lars Von Trier's "The Idiots" were the previous), whose principles include natural lighting and locations, easy-conversational dialogue and humanistic plots that take place in the here and now.

"Mifune," an Oscar nominee for best foreign film, is a fine example of such precepts: handsomely photographed, terrifically atmospheric, guiltily amusing in the black-comedic plights of the protagonists, and quite unpredictable up to (if not including) the happy end. No heavy Ingmar Bergman fare, no chess games with Death here.

That's the upbeat difference between melancholy Danes and Swedes.

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