The official Danish selection for this year’s Academy Awards and winner of 7 Robert Awards (Danish Oscars) including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay, TERRIBLY HAPPY spins a riveting yarn about Robert Hanson (Jakob Cedergren), a Copenhagen police officer who, following a nervous breakdown, is transferred to a small provincial town to take on the mysteriously vacated marshal position and subsequently gets mixed up with a married femme fatale. Robert’s big city temperament makes it impossible for him to fit in, or understand the uncivilized, bizarre behavior displayed by the townspeople.
Quickly spiraling into an intense fable, director Henrik Ruben Genz displays a unique and sometimes macabre vision of the darkest depths to which people will go to achieve a sense of security and belonging.
Henrik Ruben Genz, director of TERRIBLY HAPPY, was Born 1959 in Denmark. He received Best Film and Script Awards for his graduate film Cross Roads at the Film school Festival in Munich. His short fiction film Teis & Nico (1998), a festival hit worldwide, received the Crystal Bear in Berlin and an Academy Award nomination. He has directed a number of TV series, including the Emmy nominee The Killing (2007). Genz’ feature film debut, Someone Like Hodder (2003), also popular at festivals, was awarded in Buenos Aires, Chicago, London and Zlin, among others. Chinaman (2005) was a winner at Karlovy Vary and received the Grand Prix and Silver Arrow for Best Actor (Bjarne Henriksen). Terribly Happy is Genz’ third feature film.
Bijan Tehrani: When did you first decide to make Terribly Happy and what really motivated you to make this film?
Henrik Ruben Genz: Of course as a director I am always looking for material for a film, and I am not a director who writes his own stuff. So I was searching and looking for something to film. I then read a book written by my childhood friend called The Art of Crying; that book really hit me because it was about my own childhood. The book was about the little village that we grew up in. So I called him and asked him if I could adapt that book and film it; unfortunately, he had already given the book away to another director. He then told me that he had written another story about a policeman coming from Copenhagen and going to the part of the country where we grew up, and I realized that this story would be interesting as well. So I followed the writing and every chapter that he wrote, he sent to me and I was allowed to have an influence on the book as well; I was apart of the writing process from very early on so of course I had some strong feelings to that story right from the start.
BT: One of the great things about this film is that it has a very universal appeal and is not only made for Denmark. Was this your intention from the very beginning?
HRG: I like stories that have more in it than the conventional one to one story, I like stories that have many layers and also have more in it than what you are seeing. So when I first read the story, I knew that this was about more than just a Copenhagen policeman who comes to the countryside and does a bad job, there is a deeper tension in the film. This is a film about cultural clashes and about the struggle of two different cultures trying to live together. I like the idea of trying to tell this little story that inhabits a much bigger story, or universal story as you said. So yes, this was my intention right from the start.
BT: How loyal did you stay to the book when you were making the film, and did you make any major changes to allow the transition from text to the visual medium of film?
HRG: Yeah, I made one huge change to the book. The main story in the book is the story between Robert and his relationship with his mother, who actually moved to that far away countryside. I couldn’t have these two stories battling with one another, so the scriptwriter and I decided to put the mother story on standby and see what would happen to the other story. We decided that this was the proper way to do it because, if not, the two stories would interfere with one another.
BT: Even for those who are familiar with life in Denmark, it would seem that this film is more of a fantasy comedy rather than a depiction of real life. I personally feel that if you leave that layer out, than the inner layers of the film is a depiction about how people really are, so in a way it is about real life. Would you agree with this?
HRG: I totally agree. On the surface, of course it is kind of a comedy. But underneath that there is a lot of realism, and if you don’t take the comedy too literally, we see that the film is about how you react to strangers who do not want to be apart of our environment, and we are scared of those who are different than us. In a way, we are killing those people; we are marginalizing them and making it harder for them to be apart of the community. From that aspect, the film is more realistic.
BT: How did you go about casting the film? Actors performances are great.
HRG: Thank you for that, because I am very happy about the performances of our actors. I knew from very early-on in the process that I wanted to work with Jack. There was a rumor about this actor, that he was a very difficult person to work with, but called him for a meeting and I met the most wonderful guy instead of a monster. Lena was, of course, right there from the very start. So I think that the three main characters worked out very well.
BT: Did you do a lot of rehearsals prior to filming?
HRG: I dislike rehearsing; I like to read the actors and trust them and hope that they understand the subtext of the film. My experience is that, when they understand what is beneath the dialogue, then they can act it—they don’t have to rehearse. I feel that the actions will be fresh to all of us and that the actors will effectively evoke their feelings.
BT: How did you come up with the visual style of the film?
HRG: Right from the start, the story has a lot of depth and genre in it, so it is almost written like a kind of western. So I visualized the framing from my point of view. When the DP read the script, he came up with his own opinions and they were very similar to mine; the same was went for the production designer, so the three of us agreed with the style and tone of the film.
BT: What do you think are your chances in winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film?
HRG: That’s a tough one. What I hope for is being in the short-list, and then anything is possible. I’m just hoping for the short listing; I have seen some of the other competitors and there are many strong and good films. So I won’t give an answer for my own chances.
BT: Do you have any upcoming projects?
HRG: Yes actually, the writer of the book (who I mentioned was my childhood friend) has written another book which I am currently trying to turn into a script, so hopefully we can turn it into a film. Also, I have an American agent who wants to me to make a film, so maybe I’ll begin making films here in The States!
BT: Thank you it was great talking to you and bets of luck in the future.