Director's Cuts

A Danish filmmaker cooks up cannibal butchers.

The Green Butchers Cinematheque
Svend and Bjarne come up with a yummy solution to hunger and overpopulation.
Svend and Bjarne come up with a yummy solution to hunger and overpopulation.
A pair of deranged Danes called The Green Butchers are likely to win the filmic cordon bleu for cannibal cuisine. Hannibal Lecter himself might savor something called "Svend's Chicky-Wickies" -- not poultry at all, but filet of electrician, expertly cut from a tender portion of leg and lovingly marinated overnight before making its way to the display case in the front of the shop. Predictably, the uninformed but ravenous public clamors for more. Must taste like chicken.

Sound like satire? It is -- or means to be. Relying on everything from Jonathan Swift to the tacky sci-fi classic Soylent Green, writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen here cooks up an elaborate, sometimes tortured allegory about self-esteem, fame, and striving for success at any cost. He also suggests, we're chagrined to report, that post-industrial Western society is currently feeding on itself and probably won't survive for long. It must also be said that, while intermittently hilarious, the whole thing is a bit overwrought.

Jensen's protagonists won't exactly remind you of Butch and Sundance. Svend (Mads Mikkelsen) is a worried striver saddled with a huge inferiority complex. You can criticize him, the butcher says, but please don't disparage his meatballs. Laid-back Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is a stoner who smokes 20 joints a day and has trouble in his past too: His parents and wife were killed in a car crash; his twin brother, Eigil (also played by Kaas), was left in a coma. For comic relief, our two lifelong victims find themselves under the thumb of a cruel boss -- a bullet-headed autocrat named Holger (Ole Thestrup), who takes fascist glee in sausage-making. "It's almost mythological," he announces, "to kill an animal and then mock it by sticking it in its own intestine."

Good Christ. Where's the nearest vegan market?

To escape Holger, Svend and Bjarne open a competing butcher shop of their own in the village where they all live. As you might expect, these bunglers fail miserably, until an accident in the meat locker produces their unusual specialty of the house. That soon brings crowds, a local TV crew, and unforeseen success. It also points the proprietors toward murder, so great does the demand for Svend's Chicky-Wickies grow.

What we have with The Green Butchers is a kind of near-miss, wonderfully funny in places, but so burdened by sophomoric symbolism and silly portents that you soon want to opt for the spinach salad and let it go at that.

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