The Green Butchers (De Grønne Slagtere) Review
The official story from the FBI is that snuff movies do not exist. After apparently years of searching for one amongst numerous investigations, they say they've never turned one up. However, I suspect that had they asked their local independent video shop owner via a nod and a wink, they'd not only be handed one but that, for their regular customers, one could be produced to meet anything that one might be particularly fond of.
You see, back in the days before the introduction of the VRA, the shelves of independent video shops groaned under the weight of I Spit On Your Grave, Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS, Men Behind The Sun, Island of Death and Cannibal Ferox and come the introduction of that act, it wasn't as if the owner of said shop actually destroyed their stock of said videos, more that they moved under the counter where regular customers, who knew of their presence, could request them without fear of being hounded by local representatives of the National Viewers and Listeners Association. He may be unassuming, suffer from poor body odour and have a bizarre liking for biker movies starring girls without a liking for a good support bra but your local independent video shop owner is your connection to a network of like-minded suppliers of gruesome horrors that transcends borders.
Of course, if it's the video shop owner who has access to the taped record of a slaughter, it's the butcher who has the means to dispose of the body. Odd how only a number of days pass between the disappearance of someone and the putting up of signs outside butcher's shops announcing the arrival of a 'special recipe'. And nor is this an isolated concern, with one able to see this worry reflected in popular culture as far back as Sweeney Todd, and beyond more likely, who disposed of the bodies of his victims in his meat pies. This reached a blackly comic conclusion with the permanently flushed Hillary Briss in The League of Gentlemen, where such was the appetite for his 'special stuff' that it caused an epidemic of nosebleeds in the town of Royston Vasey.
And so, after a needlessly lengthy introduction, we come to The Green Butchers. In taking receipt of this DVD for review, I knew nothing other than that it was about butchers, yet assumed, quite rightly as it happened, that it would be a black comedy with shades of cannibalism. Starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Bjarne and Mads Mikkelsen as Svend, neither of whom appear to be the sort of men that you'd want handling your cutlets, The Green Butchers opens with them in the employ of Sausage Holger, a rough-tongued butcher with a particular fascination for the sausage. In particular, it's the killing of the animal, followed by the sticking of it into its own intestine - as he puts it, "Could anything be more humiliating than being put up your own arse?"
But Bjarne and Svend are itchy to get out and although this might be something to do with Svend's habit of perspiring almost constantly - Sausage Holger calls him Sweaty Svend - they look for their own premises and to start their own business. On the day of opening, they're underwhelmed by the response but take heart from knowing the shop isn't ready and won't be until the electrician they've hired finishes. But when Svend leaves, he accidentally locks the electrician in the meat locker at the back of the shop, finding him dead when he returns the next morning. Rather than admit guilt - and being naturally sweaty, he looks guilty even when he's done nothing - Svend begins chopping up the body, marinating it and selling it as chickie-wickies. Soon there are queues forming outside their shop and what began as an accident soon becomes cold-blooded murder as they attempt to keep up with the demand for their goods. But Sausage Holger is suspicious, not least when a friend of his, who once ate his dead wife to survive a crash in the mountains, remarks that Svend's chickie-wickies remind him of Grethe, his dear departed and partly-consumed wife.
Given the amount of death in the film - as well as the various loners who end up in Svend and Bjarne's meat locker, Bjarne also has a stumbling romance with Astrid, a young woman who works at the cemetery - it's somewhat fitting that it moves at a funereal pace despite it being, at only 95 minutes, not that long a film. Indeed, The Green Butchers cuts much out of the story in order, I suspect, to give it what pace it has - by the fifteenth minute, Svend and Bjarne are opening their shop and before their thirtieth, the first queue of satisfied customers are patiently waiting for their chickie-wickies outside the door of their butchers. It only really becomes a matter of time and a sufficient number of bodies before they're discovered and in Sausage Holger, they have a competitor with no love for either of them and whose curiosity has been pricked by hearing that their meat had a strange aftertaste, coming from a man who, having tasted more than most, ought to know.
When they're finally discovered, who it is and what follows doesn't play out as you might expect. Bjarne, literally Svend's silent partner who does little more than smoke joints, has only one surviving relative - his wife and parents died in a car driven by Eigel (also played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who crashed after swerving to avoid a deer that had walked onto the road in front of them. As the film opens, Eigel is in a coma and on life support and in order to get access to his trust fund, Bjarne orders that they switch it off. Something miraculous happens, though, in that Eigel wakes up and, although mentally handicapped, leaves the hospital in search of his brother. Bjarne doesn't say much but takes great pleasure in the handling of dead animals whilst Eigel is as talkative as Bjarne is not and carries with him a toy giraffe. He is also a vegetarian and hands out small plastic animals as a greeting. What was a black comedy with touches of horror becomes a family drama as Bjarne falls in love, speaks to his brother for the first time in seven years, being the length of time that Eigel was in a coma, and finds some hope in his life.
And then, just as it starts to become more enjoyable...it ends. There's a good resolution to the story of cannibalism and a sweet scene on a seaside that shows some kind of resolution but, otherwise, The Green Butchers feels incomplete, as though writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen wasn't quite able to develop a satisfying ending to the piece. Otherwise, it's not bad, somewhat slow and, for a black comedy, not particularly funny but well made. Unfortunately, though, there's, if you'll pardon the pun, too little meat on this film's bones to make it a memorable one and other than its ending, there's very little to be interested in. So little, in fact, that I doubt it will ever appear on the shelves of an independent video shop anytime soon.
As with many foreign-language films that get picked up by a sympathetic distribution company, The Green Butchers arrives on DVD with an excellent transfer, having a sharp, clearly defined image with deep, rich colours an good handling of what is often a dark picture. Granted that, as slow moving as it is, the DVD doesn't often handle scenes that are full of movement but it's an excellent picture throughout. Similarly, the two audio tracks - Dolby Digital 5.1 and the default stereo option - are good but largely without anything worth noting. There is the occasional use of the surround channels, but not much, and whilst both tracks are good, there's nothing that will take you by surprise. Finally, there are optional English subtitles, which are not enabled by default.
The main extra on the disc is The Making of The Green Butchers (25m13s), which opens with various clips from the film before going backstage with the director and the lead members of the cast, all of whom get to express their thoughts on the film and on its production.
Next, there is Meat Is Murder, which, other than owing something to second studio album by The Smiths, is a short feature (10m42s) on the make-up and prosthetics used in the film. Morten Jacobson, the film's Make-up Artist, as you would expect, features heavily here as does Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and the various slabs of special effects that make up the torsos, feet and hands that lie in Svend's locker.
Finally, there are two trailers (1m04s and 2m15s), which consist of the standard package of highlights.
And so concludes another film about suspect butchers to add to the list, which includes all of The League Of Gentlemen, being the finest example to date of a butcher serving up a peculiar type of meat. This isn't bad but is rarely memorable and only occasionally funny. The DVD is very good, though and plenty for anyone with enough of an interest in these odd Danish butchers to be purchasing this.