Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO — Initially intriguing but ultimately saddled with more quirks than it can handle, “With Your Permission” elicits some chuckles but will be a hard sell for foreign-film audiences puzzled by its inability to connect on an emotional level.
Beginning with the assumption that a man being beaten by his wife is inherently funny, “Permission” introduces the gangly, skittish Jan, a food service manager who’s such a stickler for rules he’ll call the police on a woman for swiping a French fry from her husband’s buffet tray.
Obviously seriously repressed, Jan is urged into counseling by a boss who (judging from the frequent mysterious bruises and contusions) thinks he should leave his abusive wife Bente. He winds up in a domestic-abuse group whose other male participants, unsurprisingly, are perpetrators rather than victims; perhaps embarrassed by his weakness, he fumblingly tries to pass himself off as an aggressor. From there, it’s a surprisingly short hop to the point at which Jan commissions the two goons in his group to kill his wife.
But something’s missing here. While Bente, a one-time opera student, is a comic monstrosity, with a diva’s volatile temperament, the film doesn’t sell us, even cartoonishly, on the idea that Jan would kill her. (Understandably for a comedy, “Permission” shows practically no actual abuse. But it also leaves unresolved — perhaps unintended — clues that there’s more to the violence than Jan’s coworkers and we assume.)
Turns out, Jan’s motivation doesn’t matter. Those hired thugs are actually closet softies, who upon learning of Bente’s stymied ambition decide Jan is the real villain. The script unravels from here, leaving promising comic threads untended while focusing on Jan’s decidedly unfunny deterioration: As Bente pursues a singing debut without him, he loses his job, becomes homeless, and makes pathetic passes at an uninterested girl.
The buoyant weirdness of the first act fades, and is replaced by a marital reconciliation plot whose foundation is shaky at best. There’s something to the stew of buried resentments and unwise compromises that prolific screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen introduces in the film’s second half, but the themes are underdeveloped and don’t explain much of the couple’s behavior. (Could it be that, with nearly two dozen films to his name since 2000, Jensen simply can’t give each the thought it deserves?) By the time a climactic (and potentially lovely) aria/catharsis sequence offers Jan and Bente an opportunity to reconnect with each other, each character has alienated viewers enough that few will be very invested in rooting for the happy ending.
WITH YOUR PERMISSION
Nordisk Film A/S
Director: Paprika Steen
Writer: Anders Thomas Jensen
Producers: Leila Vestgaard, Thomas Heinesen
Executive producers: Kim Magnusson, Tivi Magnusson
Director of photography: Sebastian Wintero
Production designer: Jette Lehmann
Music: Nikolaj Steen
Co-producer: Lars G. Lindstrom
Editor: Anne Osterud
Jan: Lars Brygmann
Bente: Sidse Babett Knudsen
Rudy: Nicolaj Kopernikus
Alf: Rasmus Bjerg
Erik: Soren Pilmark
Sanna: Frida Hallgren
Eckelstein: Jan Malmsjo
Running time — 95 minutes
No MPAA rating