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The New Danish Cinema
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. "Adam's Apples" (Aka, "Adams aebler," "Adams Applen")

Reaching for dark humor in a dogme atmosphere of grotesque self-conscious behavior, Anders Thomas Jensen ("Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself") has concocted what is likely a festival film darling (14 wins and 9 nominations) that mainly challenged my ability to stay awake.

Neo-Nazi Adam (tough, stocky, skin-headed Ulrich Thomsen), as a condition of his parole, is sentenced to serve penance at a country church where Reverend Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen, "Casino Royale," "Pusher") is running things. The "Oh, good, a Nazi parishioner" reaction typifies the vicar's derangement and/or simplicity of mind and soul -- a parable, perhaps, on the turn-the-other-cheek philosophy of behavioral perfection. In any event, Ivan has a very hard time seeing evil in anyone or in any human action, however great a threat to his honor or existence.

He requires only that Adam have a mission (read, duty) for his 12-week residency, which, when Adam faulters in conceiving of one, is assigned by Ivan. Adam is to nurture the church's apple tree for the purpose of producing an apple cake as a term project. Unfortunately, before that part of his sentence is reached, a celestial set of punishments is visited upon the poor tree: an attack by ravaging crows, a maggot infestation and a little lightning for good measure. The tree's bounty is a battlefield of symbolic weaponry.

Adam sort of goes along with the routine of his post incarceration period with a "suffering fools" attitude, but his approach to penance is more a continuation of the evil impulses that define him. He's Ivan's polar opposite, a faithless bully who lives to inflict pain for little reason and for its own sake. His appetite for violence is aroused by a preacher's insistent blind devotion.

The misfortune of having to be here and the unlucky attacks on his tree are tests of fortitude, but nothing compared to the untreatable brain tumor Ivan is suffering (though for the most part it's unseen and undetectable). Dr. Kolberg (Ole Thestrup), however, keeps us in the picture with his dire prognoses and failure of circumvention.

The corps of parishioners is as thin and spoiled as the core of the apples, consisting of Khalid (Ali Kazim), an Arab immigrant whose joy in life is robbing gas stations, and Gunnar (Nicolas Bro), an overweight sex addict who once was a tennis pro.

Much can be forgiven on the basis of whimsically surreal storytelling with a philosophical purpose and, while I can appreciate Jensen's efforts toward realizing that, and the many who have been stimulated by it, for me it didn't translate into engagement with his characters or the substance of his symbolism. It came off as more clownish than clever and a labor to hang in with, far from the auteurial intent. I just wasn't, it turns out, the ideal audience for man's allegorical way of dealing with the demonic weightiness of the world.

"Adam's Apple" was the 2006 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film from Denmark. It was not nominated but found U.S. distribution. One hopes it does well.

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Mads Mikkelsen and Ulrich Thomsen
Serving a term in penance.

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