Film-Forward Review: [ADAM'S APPLES]

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Written & Directed by: Anders Thomas Jensen.
Produced by: Tivi Magnusson & Mie Andreasen.
Director of Photography: Sebastian Blenkov.
Edited by: Anders Villadsen.
Music by: Jeppe Kaas. Language: Danish with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Denmark. 93 min. Rated R.
Released by: Outsider Pictures.
With: Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Nicholas Bro, Patrika Steen, Ali Kazim, Ole Thestrup & Nikolaj Lie Kaas.

Gleefully embracing magic realism for dark comic effect, Adamís Apples is a charming parable brought to life. Writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen employs a repertory of actors he specifically writes for, setting a contemporary Book of Job within a rural churchís halfway house for hard-core convicts finishing out their prison sentences.

Snarling skinhead Adam (Ulrich Thomsen, contrary to his sensitive soldier in Brothers) aggressively flashes his swastika tattoo when he meets the cheerful pastor, Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen). Perplexed that Adamís prison record describes him as unredeemable, Ivan asks him to choose only one goal as his community service. Glancing sullenly at the apple tree that dominates the churchís front yard, Adam sarcastically offers to bake an apple pie. Ivan enthusiastically assigns him the care of the tree to produce suitable apples, persisting in making Adam deal with predators and natural disasters with hilarious, surprising, and dramatic results. But Adamís real mission is to rid the pastor of his goodness.

Ivan is like a marvelous Pangloss, Voltaireís confounding optimistic tutor from Candide. Mads Mikkelsen does not play the reverend as a misunderstood fool, but as a determined idealist, the diametric opposite of his James Bond villain in the latest Casino Royale (bleeding out of his ears here, rather than his eyes, to literally hear no evil). Pollyanna-like, Ivan always perceives the glass as full, even when it is, in fact, completely empty. The convicts accuse him of being weird, dense, crazy, and a liar, but his equanimity in literally turning the other cheek not only in the face of misfortune but direct violence has a fascinating effect on the men, as well as a troubled parishioner (Paprika Steen as Sarah, who, like her Biblical namesake, goes from weeping to laughing about her pregnancy). Though Ivan is increasingly bruised in altercations, this is still less bloody than Jensenís cannibalistic The Green Butchers. Building to a climax amidst a lightning storm and its transformative effects, the story intriguingly evolves into a serious debate, parallel to those among Job and his friends about the nature of faith. The Bible Ivan gives to Adam keeps opening to that chapter.

The broad antics of the cat-toting, gluttonous ex-tennis star Gunnar (Nicholas Bro) and the gun-toting gas station robber Khalid (Ali Kazim) go over the top, though they provide amusing foils for Adam. His neo-Nazi buddies seem too much out of Hoganís Heroes (including one played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who international audiences know as the hunk from Brothers and Reconstruction). And a series of running jokes run a predictable course, including Ivanís predilection for a Bee Gees song on the car radio. But amusingly, Jeppe Kaasí score comically recalls another pedagogic lesson, Prokofievís Peter and the Wolf.

Though some of the awkwardness in the British translation communicates Khalidís fractured speaking in a non-native language, the subtitles are so filled with spelling and grammatical errors that it is hard to tell which are intentional for comic effect. Nora Lee Mandel
March 16, 2007



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