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HAPPY HAPPY (SKY LYKKELIG) (director: Anne Sewitsky; screenwriter: Ragnhild Tronvoll; cinematographer: Anna Myking; editor: Christoffer Heie; music: Stein Berge Svendsen; cast: Agnes Kittelsen (Kaja), Joachim Rafaelsen (Eirik), Maibritt Saerens (Elisabeth), Henrik Rafaelsen (Sigve), Oskar Hernaes Brandso (Theodor), Ram Shihab Ebedy (Noa), Heine Totland (Choral Director); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Synnove Horsdal; Magnolia Pictures; 2010-Norway in Norwegian with English subtitles)

“Ironic dramedy about couples finding happiness through gaining self-respect.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The debut feature of the Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky is a somewhat satisfactory but strained ironic dramedy about couples finding happiness through gaining self-respect.It’s written byRagnhild Tronvollwith a degree of intelligence, but without enough nerve to be biting or memorable.The pic brings up big issues in domestic relationships and racial relationships, but despite the fine acting has no heart in following through with any kind of realized payoff. Instead it goes limp and offers too much sentimentality, a predictable tidy ending and tepid looks at how the bourgeois handle family strife in serene Norway.

A sophisticated professional city couple, Elizabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), with their passive adopted African child, from Ethiopia, Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy), move to the sticks for Sigve to get over his Danish wife’s affair. Their neighbor landlords are stereotyped yokels, the over friendly junior high school German teacher Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) and her unsophisticated gruff hunter and wrestling buff hubby Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen). The landlord’s aggressive son Theodor (Oskar Hernaes Brandso) likes to play cruel games with Noa, where the same aged black kid plays his slave while he plays the master. At a returned dinner invitation, at the tenant’s house, the polar opposite couples play an uncomfortable board game that gets some tied up in emotional knots over their love life.

The winter wonderland story gives way to farce: played out in infidelities and the revealing of dark secrets from everybody–with Eirik’s secret the darkest. Surprise! Surprise! Both couples are not as Happy Happy as first thought and we soon get to see what’s bugging them–it’s a matter of domestic-strife and longings for love. Meanwhile scenes often change to a well-dressed Nordic male quartet chorus belting out in English American spirituals and ballads, that sound strange because the songs don’t quite connect with the soap opera narrative.

By the end of the melodrama, during the Christmas season, after three of the four leads sing “Amazing Grace”, excluding Eirik, in the local church choir, all their gigantic marital problems magically evaporate due to lessons learned on the fly. The affable Sigve leaves the vulnerable Kaja’s arms to return to his apologetic beautiful lawyer wife and the once perceived perfect couple look good again together though not in the same perfect way as before, as they split for the city; while the plain-looking, gregarious, and insecure Kaja, always putting on a happy face that might as well say ‘I want to be your friend because I’m so lonely,’ has gained enough strength to leave her uncommunicative and mentally cruel hubby who only pities her but doesn’t love her.

It won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for a dramatic feature at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 11/18/2011 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”