There has never been a film quite like the latest pitch-black comedy from Danish writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen, nor do I believe will there ever be another. Whether or not that is considered a good thing is something that I imagine will vary greatly from viewer to viewer, but I cannot resist saying Men & Chicken, otherwise known as Mænd & høns is a film that needs to be seen. In a world of predictability, this film is as original as they come.
Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) and Gabriel (David Dencik) are two oddball siblings who learn they are adopted half-brothers in their late father’s videotape will and set off to uncover the truth behind their lineage. They travel to a derelict mansion on a remote island and encounter three additional siblings, all half-brothers, who all claim their mothers died during childbirth. Gabriel cannot help finding this statistic a bit hard to believe, and his curiosity only grows when his newly introduced siblings deny he and Elias access to their aging father, but Gabriel tries to ignore his doubts in hopes of developing a relationship with the family he never knew he had.
As it turns out, sometimes the family you don’t know is the one you’re better off not knowing. Each of Gabriel’s siblings appears more socially challenged than the last, including Elias, and soon their quirks become too much for Gabriel to bear. This leads to tension in the newly reunited family, and ultimately strains whatever chances the estranged brothers have of coming together, but for Gabriel it is all worth it as long as he can understand the truth about his family. What he discovers is, and will most likely remain for quite some time, among the most bizarrely original twists in film, especially in the world of comedy.
The comedic elements of Men & Chicken are what give the strange world Jensen presents life, but they’re also what will turn some viewers off. The brothers, Elias and Gabriel included, have no idea how to exist in the real world. They’re each driven by the desire both feel as if they belong and sleep with a woman, but only Gabriel has ever had any success with a woman. His brothers’ lack of understanding about human interaction is exposed through bizarre behaviors including relentless masturbation, bestiality, and a knack for ending arguments with physical violence that feels lifted from the cutting room floor of The Three Stooges.
Mikkelsen receives top billing in the film, but that is likely to do with his work outside the story than his appearance in it. Dencik is the true star of the film, and as such he’s tasked with keeping the most absurd characteristics of his broken family grounded in reality. He’s essentially the straight man that four crazy people bounce their insanity off of, and he carries that responsibility well. The role of Gabriel is not one that is likely to inspire awards conversation, nor am I say it should, but what Dencik brings to the film through his turn as Gabriel is what makes you want to see the film through to the very end.
I cannot say Men & Chicken is for everyone, but anyone who sees it will be unable to forget it. How you will feel about the film, as well as how often you will feel compelled to tell others of its existence, is another story altogether. Anders Thomas Jensen has delivered an entirely unique narrative on the meaning of family and how the ties that bind us to one another can be far stranger than we could ever imagine. To say it’s a story of love or brotherhood might be a stretch, but there are feel-good moments littered amid the incredibly dark humor. I think this film changed me in ways I still do not fully understand, and I believe it will do the same for you, so please approach with caution and an open mind.