REVIEW: Adams æbler [Adam’s Apples] [2005]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 94 minutes | Release Date: April 15th, 2005 (Denmark)
Studio: Nordisk Film Biografdistribution / Outsider Pictures
Director(s): Anders Thomas Jensen
Writer(s): Anders Thomas Jensen

“That’s just plain rude”

God works in mysterious ways—very mysterious ways. Or at least that’s what Anders Thomas Jensen‘s pitch-black fable Adams æbler [Adam’s Apples] will have us believe. It may just be plain old faith as the mere belief in good and evil sometimes gets you through the tragedies miring your life, dictating that everything happens for a reason. No matter how bad things get, having the faith that you’ll prevail is literally enough to make it true. To have God in your corner is to possess the strength necessary to overcome any obstacle no matter how dire or desperate they prove. Like most things, however, one man’s strength is another’s weakness. Ivan’s (Mads Mikkelsen) blind devotion grows to be the bane of Adam Pedersen’s (Ulrich Thomsen) very existence.

The reason is as simple as oil versus water. You can’t put a cheerily optimistic priest whose disposition borders on idiocy and a just-released-from-prison Neo Nazi in the same room expecting mutual respect. This is why Adam barely says two words for the first fifteen minutes or so. He’s too busy trying to wrap his head around the new world he finds himself within—a church run by a delusional whacko alongside two former community service inmates turned disciples as eccentric and seemingly unreformed as Gunnar (Nicolas Bro) and Khalid (Ali Kazim). Adam can’t quite understand how Ivan can ignore his blatant attempts at disrespect and becomes frustrated when the priest seems to genuinely have hope for his future. It’s as though he’s walked into the Twilight Zone.

At first it feels like a game, Ivan toying with him using reverse psychology. He asks Adam to set a goal and applauds a sarcastic retort about baking a pie with the apples in the courtyard as a genius idea. All Adam has to do to return to his skinhead buddies like errand boy Holger (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and newly anointed leader during his absence Esben (Lars Ranthe) is take care of the apple tree until August and craft his pastry. But when crows begin flocking atop the suddenly worm-infested fruit just as the oven blows a gasket, this goal becomes much less of a sure thing. Adam doesn’t care because he probably wouldn’t have done it anyway, but Ivan sees it as a test from Satan.

So the film follows these two disparate minds destined to converge. It’s Ivan attempting to reach Adam and convert him to goodness like the other two under his care while Adam seeks to open Ivan’s eyes to the fact that everything he believes is a lie. Step One is to use reason by exposing how Gunnar still drinks and Khalid still steals, but Ivan has an answer. Step Two is to glean details about the priest’s horrendously tragic life and throw them in his face only to have his would-be victim deflect like the good Christian he is. Step Three is to throw the kitchen sink: a trifecta of unhinged physical abuse, verbal torture, and keenly fateful table turn wherein the Bible can prove Ivan’s undoing.

Their match of wits and constitution is a deliciously dark one with racial slurs, bleeding ears, and potential rape/murder all in front of a paralyzed child who’s wheelchair-bound due to cerebral palsy. Random weirdness occurs at every turn whether Gunnar’s inability to keep his hands from stealing anything within reach, Khalid’s broken Danish alluding to a volatile temper only quelled by the release of gunfire, or Ivan’s constant rabbit holes of words and pinned discussions that never occur whenever his fictions are tested by concrete evidence to the contrary. If I were Adam I might have just killed one of them to go back to jail and be rid of the lunacy. In brilliantly comic fashion like only Jensen can do, he tries just that to no avail.

Some of the best fights between Thomsen and Mikkelsen are conducted solely through expressions with the former’s incredulity and the latter’s serene dedication to fantasy. And what makes it all more intriguing and entertaining is that we can see our smart assumptions gradually dissolve in the presence of the unexplained. We know Adam is the sane person in this equation—Hitler love and brutal fists regardless—and yet the film makes it harder and harder to ignore that the coincidences may actually be divine intervention. Suddenly it once more comes down to faith because Jensen doesn’t supply us a personified God or Devil, he merely manipulates the events to shake both men into discovering their personal introspective solution to what’s going on around them.

Mikkelsen’s a showstopper with his unwavering forgiveness and blind eye while Thomsen’s never-ceasing confusion and anger in response crescendos into homicidal rage. Bro, Kazim, and Paprika Steen‘s outsider seeking help (Sarah Svendsen) each bring bottled derangement a hair’s breadth from exploding to keep the main pair on their toes. Eventually it boils down to what they’re willing to accept in regard to the miracles and disasters occurring on the daily. Something’s happening at this church whether divine intervention, explainable phenomenon if given enough time to decipher the science, or simply the bizarre mind of an artist fearlessly delivering whatever comes into his head. Pick one or the other or make up something new—I don’t care. In the end Adam’s Apples remains a uniquely comic journey towards salvation.

courtesy of Film Movement

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