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Men and Chicken | Review

Cheep cheep cheep: Jensen’s Bizarre Family Reunion

Men and Chicken PosterKnown for his incredibly prolific career as a screenwriter, penning several of Susanne Bier’s most internationally renowned films (including In a Better World, Brothers, and After the Wedding), Anders Thomas Jensen returns with the spectacularly weird Men and Chicken, the director’s first stint behind the camera since 2005’s Adam’s Apples (a black comedy about a priest interacting with a neo-Nazi sentenced to community service).

Known for his offbeat, pitch-black humor as a director, often resulting in divisive responses, his latest exploration of taboo material is no less subversive, and is certainly the most entertaining cinematic exploration of bestiality since Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast (1975), at least with its nonchalant affront to the ruling stick known as good taste. Imagine if Tobe Hooper had recalibrated The Island of Dr. Moreau through the edifice of Grey Gardens and you get the portrait of extremely strange dysfunction Jensen attains. Reaching heights of near delirious comedy, the film isn’t without a certain streak of viciousness, in many ways a fairy tale rendition of abusive patriarchy.

Two rather strange brothers, Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) are reunited when their father dies. It is clear Gabriel cares little for the socially awkward Elias, who carries a roll of toilet paper with him everywhere he goes thanks to his problem with chronic masturbation. Elias, on the other hand, seems obsessed with Gabriel. Their father leaves behind a VHS tape revealing the siblings are actually half-brothers and they were adopted as young boys, their biological father a scientist named Evelio Thanatos (which means Death) living on the isolated island of Ork. The men trek off to the mysterious island, where a dwindling populous of forty inhabitants reside quietly. Upon reaching their father’s house, they discover three more brothers (Soren Malling, Nicolas Bro, Nikolaj Lee Kaas), all who sport the same harelip. But none of them seem to have the same mother and dad is locked up in his bedroom with an infection. Though their first encounter is quite violent, the two new sets of siblings settle in to wait for dad to appear. But as time passes, Gabriel and Elias begin to learn rather alarming things about their lineage and what their isolated brothers do to pass the time.

Beyond the film’s utter ludicrousness, the basic premise of flagrantly irresponsible fatherhood is somewhat reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s rampant siring of children throughout his illustrious career, and he’s certainly a filmmaker several of Jensen’s films seem influenced by. But what makes Men and Chicken strangely resonant, especially compared to the caricature evident in Adam’s Apples, is the empathetic relationship between Dencik and Mikkelsen.

Dencik, often cast as likeable weirdoes (he’s particularly great in various examples of Scandinavian cinema, like Hotel and We Are the Best!) is the figure of normalcy this time, while fans of Mads Mikkelsen should enjoy seeing the star descend into utter lunacy as an aggressive masturbator, intent on sleeping with any member of the opposite sex in the vicinity.

Scenes of bizarre, homosocial quarrels specific to this particular universe of thwarted desires hinges on notions of semantics not far removed from something like Athina Rachel Tsangari’s latest, the droll Chevalier, and Jensen’s film feels very much in line with the trajectory of the Dane Weird Wave.

Sexuality and violence intermingle intensely, and their three even stranger siblings are all played by notable Danish actors, like Nicolas Bro, Nikolaj Lee Kaas, and here a very disturbing Soren Malling as the actual ‘micken.’ Jensen collaborates once more with DoP Sebastian Blenkov (of Henrik Ruben Genz’ Chinaman and two Lone Scherfig titles), who captures most of the grotesque action in the midst of the peculiar, dilapidated hovel. Certainly, Men and Chicken is not for everyone, but for lovers of the riotously offbeat, Jensen returns with a vengeance.

Reviewed on October 7 at the 2015 Beyond Film Festival – 104 Mins
★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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