HAPPY, HAPPY: Crazy couple swapping on a snowy Norweigan hillside

Set on a snowy, Norwegian mountainside, HAPPY, HAPPY – a World Cinema Jury Prize winner at this year’s festival – tells the story of Kaja, a wife and mother who eagerly seeks friendship in Elisabeth and Sigve, the exciting (they adopted an Ethiopian boy!) and precariously tall couple coming to live in their guest house. Kaja’s obvious longing for affection is due in large part to the negligence of her husband, a latent homosexual whose “hunting excursions” and weird, outdoor Tee-Pee of Solitude – called a “lavoo” in Norwegian – ain’t fooling nobody. Soon, Kaja’s need to please bumps up (literally) against Sigve’s desire to be taken seriously by his wife, whose dalliances back in the city instigated their move to the mountain in the first place. A few sweaty rolls on the floor later and a couple-swap has taken place. Oh, and there’s some really messed up stuff going on with the kids, one of whom tries to “enslave” the other by beating him with a wet dish towel.

This doesn’t sound like the kind of flick one would typically describe as “happy, happy,” but bizarrely, the characters all remain implausibly civil (except for one awkward, snowy fight scene between Sigve and Kaja’s husband, Eirik, that ultimately ends in hugs), eating together at Christmas, calmly swapping bedrooms, etc. Perhaps the Norwegian title is more revealing: Sykt Lykkelig, which translates to “insanely happy,” goes a long way towards describing Kaja, who just keeps grinning even after her husband has left her to go sleep in his igloo thingy. According to director Anne Sewitsky, a recent graduate of the Norwegian Film School in Lillehammer, this is precisely the quality that makes Kaja admirable. “I wanted to tell the story of an insistently happy person,” she says. “No matter how hopeless and tragic the world may be, she smiles. Kaja lives through others, wants to be like everyone else, maybe for want of individual foundations. Her driving force becomes happiness, she’s made joy her survival strategy.”

Happily, there’s no survival strategy required for watching this film, even as the characters start to untangle the emotional mess they’ve made. I was somewhat surprised, however, to see in the program that HAPPY, HAPPY was billed as a black comedy, so serious is some of its content (particularly the disturbing kid-slave stuff). Nonetheless, I did fail to suppress a few giggles when Kaja abruptly dives into Sigve’s trousers with the furious dedication of a gopher digging into its spring hidey-hole, and again when the adulterating couple go for a naked romp in the snow, weenies wagging.  If that image alone doesn’t sell DVDs, I don’t know what will.