With Your Permission ***1/2
Directed by Paprika Steen
I've seen so many heavy dramas over the last couple of days-"The Banishment," "The Mourning Forest," "In Memory of Myself"-that every now and then I've been able to counter it with a fantastic comedy-"You, the Living," "California Dreamin'" and not the terrific "With Your Permission." Directed by the cute Paprika Steen, who did a bit part in "Erik Neitszche: The Early Years"-oddly enough she does most of her scenes nude, so it was a bit odd to see her in person (not in preferred state). "With Your Permission" is chocked full of dark humor, but also does a great job showing two sides to these characters, and your mind changes about them several times over the course of the film. Victim becomes suspect, and vice versa.
Starring Lars Brygmann, who for some reason reminded me of Michael Palin, the film is about Jan, a ferry boat worker who comes to work every now and then with a black eye or a broken nose. He claims that he is just unlucky, but his boss Erik-played by Søren Pilmark who reminds me of John Cleese with a deeper voice-suspects that his wife Bente is beating him. That is exactly what happens, and Jan is scared to go home. Instead he buys massive amounts of opera tickets and goes there almost every night to escape the horrors of home, and to remember how things used to be. Jan and Bente were once opera singers at university, until an accident made Jan incapable to singing. His wife said that she would never sing again even though her voice is fully intact, just to please her husband. But Jan never fully provided for her and she gets mad about that. Things change when Jan goes to therapy under the ruse that he beats his wife, and he meets Alf and Rudy, who eventually befriend his wife and try to get her on the road to opera singing, while Jan tries to find a way to stop her.
Its funny how the script works-at the start we actually care about Jan, and Bente is the monster. But soon enough Bente is who we care about and Jan is the monster. And it shifts, and things change, and the plot moves forward, and there are really so many dimensions to both lead characters. Its not just a dark comedy for the sake of pushing the limit ,but everything actually is needed and done for a reason. It may not have the number of laughs as "You, the Living," but there is certainly more plot and a bit more depth. Most of the laughs come from the two side characters, Alf and Rudy, two other wife beaters that take Bente under their wing. They also change their minds about Jan about halfway through.
I could maybe see IFC picking up the film-it may not have as many names as "Erik Neitszche," but it is funnier and even a slightly better film, even though I like both of them. This is a hilarious and sweet and terrific film, and one of the better festival fares that I have seen.