Adam (Ulrich Thomen) is not the kind of man one would normally invite to live with them. Just out of jail, he is a hostile skinhead (a redundant expression of ever there was one) who prefers using his fists to discussing conflicts. Then again, he never met someone quite like Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen), a vicar whose unflappable optimism is the face of what he views as Satan testing him borders on the unhinged. Adam is apparently supposed to stay at Ivan’s church as part of his parole agreement, and there he meets the other residents: Khalid, and Arab with a personal mission to rob Statoil stations, and Gunnar, former Danish tennis great given to alcoholism and rape, were it not for Ivan’s counsel.
Ivan asks Adam for a goal to set during his time at the church, and Adam nonchalantly suggests baking a pie. There’s an apple tree on the church grounds, after all, and so he is tasked with watching over it for a few months before baking time. Unfortunately for Adam, he soon has his hands full with marauding crows, worms, and lightning. The atheistic Adam, who favors a portrait of Adolf Hitler in his room over a crucifix, gradually stats questioning Ivan’s assessment of his constant travails, hitting upon another possibility that may very well leave the vicar in dire spiritual straits.
Writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen (“Stealing Rembrandt”) starts us off slowly, gradually revealing the cracks in Ivan’s façade and the unstable nature of the church’s residents, but before long we have a comedy black enough to make even the most jaded viewer cringe a little. There are savage beat-downs, haphazard gunplay, and extreme cruelty to animals. There are joke about rape, incest, and Down’s Syndrome, and yet Jensen somehow manages to maintain a sense of humanity and impart an almost touching quality to everything.
This isn’t easy, as everyone in the picture is deranged in some way, and either unwilling to accept it or utterly unremorseful. Adam is the most identifiable character, simply because he is the only one open to change (though certainly not at first). And when the most sympathetic character in your comedy is a skinhead, you’re definitely on to something, and Jensen definitely is here.