The Scandinavians are the estranged cousins in the family of Europe. We often forget that they exist but it seems like they’re getting on well enough by themselves with their highly revered health care and education systems so they don’t play on our minds that often. There is actually a very strong Danish presence on Netflix at the moment, with the two Mads Mikkelsen vehicles The Hunt and After the Wedding, Headhunters starring Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, The Killing (the original TV show upon which the American remake is based) plus loads of stuff from Lars Von Trier (if you have the stomach for it). These productions are fantastic though it seems they have all been born out of the imagination of a people who go for quite a long stretch of year without any sunlight. They provide a fascinating insight into a culture where you are more likely to receive a rifle than a car for your sweet sixteenth.

However, out of all of these peculiar and deeply upsetting films, Klown is worthy of being this issue’s hidden gem for all of its delightfully whimsical and idiosyncratic charm. Perhaps it is unkind to attribute this to the fact that it is Danish. It is certainly a factor but it is difficult to determine how much of the film’s weirdness can be attributed to its setting in the Scandinavian countryside and how much of it derives from the bizarre and terrifying imagination of screenwriters and lead men Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen. The ‘beak tweak’, a form of punishment given to Frank (the main characters are fictionalised versions of Hvam and Christensen) for not having read the prescribed material for his book club, seems like something that could actually exist in some other culture, either as a ‘wet willy’ substitute among vicious ten year olds, or as a bizarre form of Danish corporal punishment that was most likely outlawed in the forties. On the other hand, I have my doubts that the theoretically romantic ‘pearl necklace’ that Frank intends to give his girlfriend, is a cornerstone of Danish marital tradition (you’ll get this reference if you watch it, damn you.)  

Regardless, Hvam and Christensen certainly form a formidable comedic duo that are only just beginning to receive some international exposure. The pair are essentially the Danish answer to Mitchell and Webb; Hvam started out in stand up comedy but then went on to collaborate with Christensen on a ‘Pythonesque’ sketch show, which then enabled them to land their own sitcom, Klovn, that lasted for six seasons. Klovn is the show upon which Klown is based and follows the misadventures of self-centred, self-serving manchildren, Frank and Casper. The Mitchell and Webb comparison goes beyond their respective paths to prominence, Hvam is obviously the Mitchell of the two; he is probably the more intelligent guy but he is also the more socially awkward. While Christensen is more polished and charming than Jez of Peep Show, he certainly shares his shallowness and the same disregard for anyone’s happiness but his own. Klown is not dissimilar from Peep Show in style either, reviews often compare it to The Hangover and while there is certainly a very American and ‘laddish’ side to the film’s humour, it bears the trademark cringe-humour found in the best British sitcoms such as The Thick Of It, The Office and indeed Peep Show. It features those kinds of scenes that you wish would just stop happening, regardless of how funny they are. One that comes to mind is the scene wherein Frank tentatively places the tip of his finger in the arse of a woman, who had made them pancakes earlier that day, in the most excruciatingly awkward threesome you are ever likely to see.

However, this film has a heart as well. The film’s narrative begins when Frank discovers that his girlfriend Mia is pregnant. He finds out the pregnancy from a third party, as Mia had elected to conceal it from him given that she was unsure of his credentials as a father. This seems fair given that Frank completely rejected the notion of being a Dad mere moments before finding out about his soon to be born child. Klown acknowledges an uncomfortable truth; some people are not meant to be parents. However, sometimes accidents do happen and there are certain measures in place to deal with them. Despite supposedly not wanting to be a father, Frank immediately decides that he wants to keep the baby, but Mia claims that she wants an abortion. Frank then does the logical thing and kidnaps his twelve year old nephew, Bo, in order to bring him on a canoe trip across the Danish countryside and prove his worth as a father.

Klown is a blend of different styles, its humour is as dark as it is playful, as cynical as it is silly and as grotesque as it is wonderful. It is a semi-earnest tale of redemption, of a shallow, self-centred man realising what he really wants after finding himself on the cusp of losing it. Yet Klown never becomes didactic, nor does it go for the hugging and learning type of ending indicative of the American comedy movies that it often tries to emulate. Whenever it threatens to descend into a heart-warming feel-good-movie-of-the-year narrative, Frank and Casper remind you that they are both awful, selfish people who do not deserve your support. Yet seeing them embark on their ‘Tour de Pussy’ with their three-man canoe and Lidl own-brand tent is a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile cinematic endeavour.