Remember the classic South Park episode titled “An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig”? Well, Danish film Men and Chicken at times feels a motion-picture follow-up of that episode. At least that’s how it felt to me when I saw it at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Saturday night, Jan. 9.
An old man is on his death bed as the film begins. His son, Gabriel (David Dencik)—who has a strange appearance, including a cleft-lip scar—arrives to see him. The old man asks about Gabriel’s brother, Elias (Mads Mikkelsen); Gabriel begins to get nauseous. As Gabriel goes to the sink in the hospital room, his father dies.
Meanwhile, Elias is on a date with a woman in a wheelchair who is apparently a psychiatrist. Elias, too, appears to have a physical abnormality on his face, including a cleft lip. After immediately ending the date, he’s shown in the restaurant bathroom masturbating as Gabriel calls him on his cell phone to tell him their father has died.
When Gabriel and Elias are together, they find a video tape their father left for them that reveals a family secret: He wasn’t their real father. They were adopted and both have different mothers who died during childbirth—and their real father is some sort of mysterious scientist on an island.
They travel to the island, where there are only 41 residents. As they arrive at their father’s mansion—which looks burned out and ready to fall down—they are met by their three biological brothers: Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Franz (Søren Malling) and Josef (Nicolas Bro). The three brothers are not pleased—and beat up Gabriel and Elias.
Gabriel and Elias return the following day and eventually find themselves hanging out their brothers, all of whom have physical abnormalities, including cleft lips. Meanwhile, all of the characters act … strangely. Elias continues to masturbate at random moments; Gabriel has moments when he throws up in his mouth; Gregor is obsessed with trying to meet women and asks Gabriel for his help in doing so; the other two don’t seem to know how to live like civilized people
You can guess how Men and Chicken is going to end within the first 30 minutes. In order to get to that predictable ending, you have to endure moments of random masturbation, barnyard animals walking with human feet or tiny arms, physical beat-downs at the dinner table, and, of course, the adventure of Gabriel trying to get into the basement.
Director Anders Thomas Jensen’s film has been called a “dark comedy.” Well, there very few moments of comedy. Men and Chicken is more of a kooky cult film that often doesn’t make sense. At least Men and Chicken is only 104 minutes long—and there is indeed an ending.