The Green Butchers, 2003.
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas.
A depressed stoner and his highly strung friend set up a failing butchers shop, only for success to come when they stop selling chicken and start using human.
As anti-heroes go, a disturbed stoner and an anxious psychotic who butcher customers to sell the meat are probably more on the “anti” rather than “hero” side. However, Anders Thomas Jensesn’s ever so sharp script creates a world so bleak and characters so compelling and touching that quite simply, liking them on some level is utterly irresistible.
Set in contemporary Denmark, and starring Mads Mikkelsen (before he started to annoy James Bond) and Nikolaj Lie Kaas, horror combines with subtle comedy in The Green Butchers which perhaps takes an inkling of an idea from Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen but runs with it in an entirely new way.
Feeling unfulfilled as butchers assistants, Bjarne (Kaas) and Svend (Mikkelsen) set up their own butchers shop in town. After the opening day brought zero customers and Bjarne’s fiancee left him, their hopes of success fall, until Svend discovers a body frozen in their meat locker and sells fillets of it to his old boss and arch-rival. Although initially horrified by what Svend has done, the queues outside the shop encourage Bjarne to get on board, and the death toll soon mounts up. From here on in their meteoric rise seems unstoppable, and money and love soon comes their way.
Structurally the film does not break with tradition, with it’s actpoints and mid-point all exactly where they need to be to keep the story engine running. But this is not a film which wants to be clever with the filmmaking process. There is no gore, no “unique styles”, no nothing which isn’t directly required by the script. The dark comedy comes from disturbed psyches and a sense of claustrophobia from both the small town they live in, and the meat locker where people have been taken to die.
There are no stock characters here; everyone has a complete backstory. Svend is not “just” a psycho – he lost his parents and has never truly found love until he stands opposite a counter selling human meat to unsuspecting, but devoted, customers. And Bjarne turned to pot after a traumatic event in his past which is slowly revealed throughout the film, intertwining itself with his life now. You begin to find yourself scared as, slowly, the idea of killing people for meat becomes excusable as it makes so many others happy. The Stockholm syndrome in the comfort of your front room, folks.
Svend kills off the problems in his life – literally – and Bjarne, so numbed by past events which come back to haunt him, butchers the meat as if it were chicken. The deaths in their past offer an excuse for the deaths in the present, and it is hard to demand justice for a couple of misfits even though, by any rights, they should be locked away and ignored for the rest of their lives. Perhaps not since Freddy Kreuger has there been examples where the protagonist is such a cold-hearted killer, but you just can’t wait until he is back on screen again.
The Green Butchers, like so many other fantastic films, is sadly not a film which will get wide recognition in the UK due to the language barrier, but for those who take the time to watch it, and enjoy some masterly writing, directing and acting, you may never look at your fillet of chicken in quite the same way again. KFC anyone? Didn’t think so.