It's been a considerable while since I last dived into a Danish picture, and my immediate thought as soon as Anders Thomas Jensen's Mænd & høns ‒ or, Men & Chicken, as the English-language translation reads ‒ was if I had been out of the loop for far too long. Or maybe I have aged considerably more in the last couple of years than the calendar would have me believe, as I found Men & Chicken was a bit of a tough shell to crack. Sure, it either won or was nominated for numerous awards in its native Denmark (as well as a few abroad), but that only leads me to wonder what sort of madcap movies those great Danes are making these days when that Lars von Trier feller isn't lurking about.
Playing like upper-class low-brow comedy, Men & Chicken tells the slightly questionable tale of two brothers, Gabriel and Elias, who definitely have their share of problems. Most of the issues plaguing Gabriel (David Dencik) seem to center around his sex-crazy sibling Elias (an almost over-the-top Mads Mikkelsen), who ‒ in addition to his need to constantly masturbate ‒ has the most peculiar dreams about his dear little brother. Still with me? Well, please do so at your own risk, ladies and gentlemen, as it's going to get weirder. When the boys' father dies, they discover a videotape the old man left behind, wherein the departed informs them they were actually adopted half-brothers, revealing the name of their biological father and little else.
Learning their birth father ‒ a geneticist who specialized in stem cell research ‒ is still alive, the pair make a journey to a remote Danish island with a population of 42. There, in addition to a small group of isolated and somewhat uneasy villagers led by a mayor (Ole Thestrup) who is desperate to keep the population above 40 so as to stay on the map, Gabriel and Elias discover they have three more half-brothers: Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Franz (Søren Malling), and Josef (Nicolas Bro). Like Gabriel and Elias, these unique men, all of whom have facial deformities, were each born from different wombs. They also have their own set of peculiar rules, relying on unrestrained violence whenever anyone so much as knocks on the door.
Alas, it turns out their real father has been dead for some time now, the previously-unknown brothers from other mothers having kept his demise a secret. It really isn't the sort of plot twist you won't see coming, nor is another big reveal at the conclusion of this bizarre picture, which I won't spoil (although I'm sure anyone with a slightly dark imagination can form their own hypothesis). If you find violence, incest, and beastiality funny, then your ferry to the island has just sailed in. Personally, I don't find such things terribly amusing. And yet, at the heart of it all, there was still something strangely alluring about Men & Chicken. Or rather, my translation of the film's message: "Everyone's different. Deal with it."
Dencik and Mikkelsen both dish out fine performances, as do their on-screen half-siblings (Nicolas Bro was quite impressive as the bookworm of the hidden clan, who overanalyzes The Bible in one particularly amusing moment). In fact, the film features a number of great performances from all. I would even say the picture itself is well made, though the subject matter may prevent some folks from enjoying it (I definitely wouldn't advise eating anything while you watch this one, though, so please take that into consideration). Straight from its limited theatrical run, Men & Chicken arrives in a Blu-ray/DVD combo set from Drafthouse Films, with a preview of the domestic release and booklet about the making-of the film included.
The visual presentation of this odd little hard-boiled Danish is quite nice, preserving the film's 2.39:1 aspect ratio and looking quite nice overall. Danish 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks are on-hand in both DTS-HD MA lossless mixes (it's a dialogue-oriented film, so you won't get a whole lot of bang out a 5.1 setup), and I'm sorry to say the included English subtitles ‒ which you'll definitely need if you aren't fluent in the Danish tongue ‒ contain many errors. Bonus trailers for other foreign and artsy titles are also included, as is a Digital Copy of the feature film. It probably goes without saying, but I won't be taking Drafthouse Films up on their exclusive Digital Copy bonus, seeing as how I already have a Blu-ray and DVD for a movie I don't intend to watch ever again.
Personally, I would have been much more content with one of those big round tins of butter cookies as a bonus but hey, everyone's different, right?
Deal with it.