Yes, the title is cumbersome and the movie lives up to its name. Director Anders Thomas Jensen is one of the most outrageous film talents to emerge from Denmark since The Dogme 95 Collective, the cinema manifesto written by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Jensen is famous for The Green Butchers (2003), in which a pair of meat men find out that human flesh flies off the shelves of their shop, and Adam’s Apples (2005), where a neo-nazi aims to shake a priest of his faith while striving to make the perfect apple pie. His style is essentially pushing the envelope of absurdity.
In his new film, Jensen offers a transgressive satire about family and eugenics that ends up with a great meditation on what makes us human. Mads Mikkelsen (also in the ‘Hannibal’ television series and The Hunt, Vinterberg, 2012) is almost unrecognisable, and not because of his moustache. He plays Elias, who together with Gabriel (David Dencik) aims to reunite their father to the rest of the family. He is a troubled loner and a bizarre character, just like the rest of his family who live in an uninhabited island. Prepare yourself to bad taste scenes and battles. Jensen is trying to prove how men are close to animals. And not any animal, but hens, which as with most bird species don’t have external genitalia. They procreate using their cloaca and no penetration is involved. Hens are known for letting men touch their organs without fighting. The film touches on how manipulative men can behave while dealing with animals.
Men & Chicken is the kind of movie difficult to review, because it is hardly comparable to other films. It is hard to tell if it is likeable or not, it could easily offend delicate sensibilities. There is no doubt that Jensen is driving a long and winding road to become a cult filmmaker. One can say that his characters resemble the Three Stooges, but it is more than that. They are not only a nice varietal of men; they are deep. The quartet featured in Men & Chicken ponders existential mysteries. They are eccentric but they are also cute and silly. In Jensen’s words: “Civilisation is so, so thin. We have to learn everything in comparison to animals. We are a fragile race and dependent on each other”.
Most of the film is set in a former insane asylum an hour outside of Berlin. Originally, it was a German war hospital. Jensen wrote the story on this location which inspired the elements of the narrative. It includes dark comedy, but also drama and horror.
Men & Chicken has already broken box-office records in its native land Denmark and it was part of the vanguard section of the last Toronto International Film Festival. It was part 5th LOCO London Comedy Film Festival in April 2016, and out in cinemas in July. Watch the film trailer below: