I would have to think hard to come up with a film whose story is more controversial than that of the 2006 Danish Film The Art of Crying (Kunsten at græde i kor). It’s a dark, melancholic story imbued with choices and sacrifices, about a dysfunctional family, sinful behaviour, secrets, sicknesses, and a loss of innocence.
The story is told through the eyes of eleven-year-old Allan (Jannik Lorenzen), who is trying to help his depressed father. The father is constantly threatening to take his own life, which he considers a failure. It takes a while to fully grasp the abnormality of Allan’s family – a loving yet distant mother and a teenaged sister who seems to be the only person who can comfort the father when he slips into one of his suicidal moods by submitting to his unnatural urges.
Allan does not perceive his family as unusual, but he knows that if there is a problem and feels there must be a solution. His father is filled with self-pity, and his mother takes sleeping pills to escape reality (the harsh reality is frequently mentioned and addressed throughout the film). Unable to understand what is happening in his family, worried that his mother doesn’t take her husband’s threats seriously enough, and confused by the sudden rebellious and inexplicable behaviour of his sister, the boy is determined to do whatever it is takes to keep his father alive.
When the young son of a neighbour dies, Alan’s father delivers a tearful eulogy at the funeral, and for once, even though surrounded by sorrow, he seems truly happy that his abilities are being appreciated. Alan sees that as a solution and plots to arrange more funerals for his father to attend, even if they have to be those of their relatives. At this point, you may have decided that you have figured the story out – but just before the final credits roll, you will be surprised and maybe even repulsed by the events that occur in Allan’s family…
The Art of Crying addresses serious issues realistically, as is typical for many Scandinavian productions. It ends up being a combination of dark comedy and drama, emphasising the Coming-of-Age experiences of Allan and his sister – essentially a portrayal of their miserable childhoods. Jannik Lorenzen and Julie Kolbech deliver excellent performances in the role of Allan and his sister Sanne, despite the lack of any previous screen experience.
This compensates for the rather weak character development of the script. One still becomes concerned about the fate of Alan and his sister, even if identifying with their emotional turmoil is an almost unattainable task (while not a desirable one in the story’s context). It’s assumed that in the best-selling novel by Erling Espen (which I haven’t read, but on which the film is based), one would get more insight into the motivations and personal traits of the story’s characters.
The Scandinavian cinema has a few good warm and funny films, but when it comes to harsh, realistic dramas you can’t go wrong by selecting a film from that region. I often prefer harsh realistic films to the happy-ending fairy tales always present in great variety at the cinema saloons or DVD rental places. Despite the Coming-of-Age themes, the plot’s subject matter and complexity make this film unsuitable for young audiences.
The Art of Crying was highly recommended to me as a challenging and controversial film, and it did not disappoint.
The Art of Crying Trailer