Anders Thomas Jensen has with his earlier films, "De grønne slagtere" and "Blinkende lygter", convinced the audience of his scriptwriting talents, especially his distinct sense of dark humour. "Adams æbler", clearly a more ambitious project, is now gaining him recognition as a director with a vision. Apart from merely being amusing and intriguing as a comedy, the film succeeds in communicating a meaningful message to the audience, while being deep and sufficiently complex in its values. Indeed, the film's central theme questions our central notion of good and evil without giving definite conclusions: whether there really exist absolute values is eventually left unanswered. Which is better of the two: the blindly devoted and fanatically optimistic priest Ivan or the nihilistic neo-Nazi Adam? Jensen attempts to twist the basic setting by making Ivan appear rather unsympathetic: while he helps people as a priest, he doesn't seem to do it because of them but rather because of his faith alone. It is often Adam, who notices this, not failing to observe (almost objecting to) the weaknesses of Ivan's behaviour, and yes, it is the cold-hearted, evil Adam who seems to care more and more as the story goes on.
It is difficult to sum up the whole film with only a couple of words. Mixing biblical allegories, especially the story of Job (the Fall being also an essential part of the film, yet not actually in the plot itself), with modern drama and dark comedy, Adams æbler does not fit into traditional categories. As a comedy, it doesn't straightforwardly tell what to laugh at, but the humorous is intertwined with absolutely serious elements. Thus the movie examines the outskirts of comedy and humour: it encourages the viewer to ponder whether the events are humorous or not. Even the music doesn't correspond with the comedy genre at all, but is constantly foreboding and solemn. It is a versatile film, but despite the exceptional blend, it succeeds in keeping the story together. And it's a good story.
Characters are well built and well played. Ulrich Thomsen gives perhaps his best performance to date as Adam (challenged only by his role in Festen), and so does Mads Mikkelsen as Ivan. Nicolas Bro, Ali Kazim and Paprika Steen must also be commended for their roles. Bro is a kleptomaniac and a drunkard, Kazim plays an immigrant Robin Hood gone bad, and Paprika Steen delivers a steady performance as an unbalanced future mother considering abortion. Special mention goes to Ole Thestrup as the devilishly comical (almost malicious, though we are not quite sure) Dr. Kolberg, who, while joking with his patients misfortunes in lovable dialect and showing virtually no respect to any taboos, fails to demonstrate signs of empathy or other proper human feelings. "He's done for. You could use him as a crapper. Have you had coffee?" As to its thematics, the film is utterly uncompromising: in its treatment of today's starkest evils, it never offers an apology or a clear moral; the final return towards the acceptable, so frequent in the comedy genre, doesn't quite occur. Instead, none of the problems are resolved or even discussed properly rather, they are laughed at. As in his earlier films and as many of his Danish colleagues have been doing, Jensen is examining the limits of comedy how far can one go in making fun of sensitive matters such as abuse, rape, violence, racism, disability and so on. Jensen is a provocateur: he discusses ugly subjects with little discretion, avoiding compromises. Like Dr. Kolberg, he wants to talk about things with their real names and discuss them as they are. But in addition, the comedy genre allows him to treat these issues openly.
It's about the battle between good and evil: Ivan sees only the good, Adam only the evil. Ivan tries to make Adam see the good, Adam attempts to force Ivan into seeing the evil around him. Ivan preaches about the distinction between good and evil, pointing out how much the modern world is in confusion with these terms and how much our common conceptions have changed with time. This is ironical, because the movie questions the whole distinction: in other words, it questions the consequences of the fall (not uncommon in Danish lay theology). While not making an actual statement, it points out that good and evil are, at least to a great extent, constructs of society and dependant on the point of view. On the other hand, by making Ivan absolutely blind to misfortunes in his life, it illustrates how it is possible to see good in everything, and close ones eyes from everything bad.
Adams æbler is a very interesting movie. It entertains, shocks, provokes, and finally, redeems. Whether this redemption is favourable as such, is left to the viewer to judge. All in all, it's an absolutely surprising masterwork, one of the rare gems. 8/10.