City Paper is not for tourists.
Hollywood flesh-eating flicks have a tendency to tell larger-than-life stories and to feature characters who chew a fair bit of scenery along with their meals: that charming British psychopath, say, or a certain wisecracking Venus flytrap—not to mention that guy barking out the ingredients of Soylent Green. How refreshing to see a film that treats people who fillet people as just plain folks. True, the premise of The Green Butchers—social misfits Svend and Bjarne save their failing butcher shop by recycling an unwittingly deep-frozen electrician into wildly popular cutlets, then up the body count to raise profits—is the stuff of a grade-Z splatter flick, if not an SNL sketch. But this truly funny and improbably touching Danish film from former Dogma 95 writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen sends up bootstrap entrepreneurship and rabid consumerism, makes us care about the emotionally crippled duo at the story’s core, ratchets up the tension while keeping the gore factor low, and concludes on a note of love and self-acceptance. As writer, Jensen delivers some gems: Svend and Bjarne’s pompous former employer, “Sausage” Holger (Ole Thestrup), describes the process of making venison sausage as the “mythological” thrill of killing the deer and then shoving it up its own ass, and the Rev. Villumsen (Aksel Erhardsten), who years earlier ate his wife to survive after a plane crash in the mountains, notes that the fast-selling new mystery meat “tastes a bit like Greta.” As director, Jensen establishes a tone of deadpan naturalism that’s hilarious in the sotto voce exchanges between Svend and Bjarne and expands neatly to encompass the film’s more serious moments. And although Butchers is generously budgeted and fairly conventional-looking, Jensen hasn’t lost the cool, no-frills efficiency of Dogma storytelling—the way, for example, a stuffed giraffe is used as visual shorthand for Bjarne’s brain-damaged twin brother, Eigil, or the way Bjarne’s matter-of-fact handling of a woman’s half-torso as it hangs frozen on a meat hook reveals volumes about his state of mind. In an ensemble of fine character players, Mads Mikkelsen gives a brilliantly understated turn as the uptight, ceaselessly perspiring Svend, and Nikolaj Lie Kaas is doubly impressive as odd-coupled sibs Bjarne and Eigil. Consistently human-scaled and resolutely nonjudgmental about the wayward souls trudging in and out of the meat locker, The Green Butchers really is people. —Joe Banno