Flickering Lights boasts an impressive cast from a broad range of Danish films and television (Mifune, The Celebration, Pusher, The Kingdom), which is put to good use by Jensen's witty script and slow but deliberate direction. Torkild (Søren Pilmark) is the head of a small time gang, pulling small jobs for a gangster known only as the Eskimo. After his 40th birthday and a botched heist involving 4 million krones, Torkild and his gang are forced to hide out in an abandoned inn in the middle of nowhere. The gang has to wait only until Peter (Ulrich Thomsen), who was shot, is well enough to travel, so they can continue on to Barcelona. But after meeting some of the locals and finding moments of peace in this secluded hideaway, Torkild conveniences the rest of the gang that staying put may be the future for which they are all looking. The gang uses the money to buy the inn and renovate it, making it into quaint family restaurant that people drive for miles to visit, not because of the food (the boys apparently never learn to cook), but for the atmosphere.
But before the quaint country restaurant lifestyle sets in, they have to confront the past in more ways than one. First, Eskimo still has his ear to ground, looking for the boys and the 4 million they owe him. Second, and more importantly, the gang seems to all have traumatic childhood memories of their fathers' cruelty and abuse, which seem to be the basis for their adult neuroses. Torkild was never given a private room and forced to sleep with his parents, causing a constant need for "a place of his own." Peter has an addictive personality because after being caught smoking, his father locked him in a closet and forced him to smoke 50 cigars before letting him out. Stefan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) was systematically derided by his father at the diner table, causing him to become an obsessive eater. Arne's (Mads Mikkelsen) dad abused him and made excessive demands of his masculinity, forcing him into a life of gun loving and killing. But despite the Freudian psychoanalytic explanations for their lives, the film's characters are not one-dimensional or false. In fact, they make the film more than your average gangsters on the run story. They are palpable and real, making their somewhat trite flashback easier to accept.
But it is the writing which deserves the most credit. The script is full of witty dialogue and simple yet complex situations. The title of the film, which is also what the gang names the restaurant, comes from an Emily Dickinson poem called "Flickering Lanterns." But the torn up copy of the book from which they read is missing the "E" in Emily and so throughout they refer to her as "Mily Dickinson." The gang also tries to elevate their cultural capital with a Danish mini-series, Rich Man, Poor Man, which they watch incessantly, along with Hans Christian Anderson stories. It's the little things that make this story so appealing and comic and for that the film deserves to be seen.
Aka Blinkende lygter .
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd November 2000
Distributed by: Vanguard
Production compaines: M&M Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 7 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.7 / 10
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Screenwriter: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Søren Pilmark as Torkild, Ulrich Thomsen as Peter, Mads Mikkelsen as Arne, Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Stefan, Sofie Gråbøl as Hanne, Iben Hjejle as Therese, Frits Helmuth as Carl, Ole Thestrup as Alfred Jæger, Peter Andersson as Færingen, Niels Anders Thorn as William, Henning Jensen as Peters Far, Solbjørg Højfeldt as Peters Mor, Jesper Asholt as Torkilds Far, Helle Dolleris as Torkilds Mor, Bent Mejding as Farfar, Karen-Lise Mynster as Stefans mor, Helle Virkner as Tante Beate, Thomas Bo Larsen as Jens, Laura Drasbæk as Susanne