If you watched “Hannibal” on television (and you should have), you know the great Mads Mikkelsen engaged in some pretty disgusting things, albeit in a refined, elegant way.
In “Men & Chicken,” Anders Thomas Jensen’s bizarre freak-out of a movie, Mikkelsen’s character again engages in some pretty vile things, only this time without the refinement and elegance. I actually had to pause and try to recall whether cannibalism might count as one of them, as it did in “Hannibal.” That gives you some idea of where this movie is going.
Actually, no, it doesn’t. You’ll just have to see it to find out. It’s better that way — too much detail might put you off, and while this isn’t the best movie you’ll ever see, for the curious it’s worth exploring. (And yes, “exploring” is the word; it’s both a voyage of discovery and an endurance test.)
Mikkelsen plays Elias, a dimwit we meet at a restaurant offending his date, then rushing off to the bathroom to masturbate. (Told you.) His brother Gabriel (David Dencik), the smarter of the two, calls. Their father has died, and left behind a videotape that reveals a secret: He was not their biological father. The real father moved to a remote Danish island, so Elias and Gabriel head there to try to meet him.
Instead, when they arrive at the dilapidated former sanatorium where the townspeople tell him he lives, they’re greeted by their three brothers (like Elias and Gabriel, they all have different mothers), who beat them with stuffed animals and sticks.
To call them a dysfunctional family is to understate the case considerably. Gabriel finds the brothers, who have bizarre house rules and let animals live inside and store cheese in bedrooms, disgusting. Elias sees them more as kindred spirits. Whatever the case, the other brothers won’t let Elias and Gabriel visit their father, who is sick upstairs. Nor are they allowed to enter the boarded-up basement, where their father has a lab or some kind of setup. He is a geneticist, disgraced in some fashion, so he retreated to this crumbling pile.
What’s odd, and maybe a bit of a stretch, is that Jensen (who wrote the script for the Oscar-winning “In a Better World” and won one himself for the short film “Valgaften”), actually plays around with some bigger ideas when not having us wonder why that chicken has cow’s hooves, or why the brothers will only eat off of certain plates. (The less said about sexual urges, the better.)
The nature of man is one of these ideas. Seriously. Sort of. Not entirely seriously — Jensen has a real gift for comedic editing, knowing just how long to play out a bit and when to move on. And Mikkelsen goes all in with his performance (as does everyone else). Still, there is some actual thought playing about among the creepy business going on here. To say that “Men & Chicken” isn’t for everyone is too obvious. But it is different, and for those willing to put up with it, that should be enough.
Drafthouse Films presents a film written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen. In Danish with English subtitles. Running time: 104 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.