Terribly Happy

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Terribly Happy
Terribly happy ver2.jpg
U.S. theatrical release poster
Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz
Produced by Tina Dalhoff
Thomas Gammeltoft
Written by Henrik Ruben Genz (screenplay)
Dunja Gry Jensen (screenplay)
Erling Jepsen (novel)
Starring Jakob Cedergren
Lene Maria Christensen
Music by Kaare Bjerkø
Cinematography Jørgen Johansson
Edited by Kasper Leick
Release date
  • October 2, 2008 (2008-10-02)
Running time
90 minutes
Country Denmark
Language Danish
Box office $165,000

Terribly Happy (Danish: Frygtelig lykkelig) is a 2008 Danish film directed by Henrik Ruben Genz, based on Erling Jepsen's novel of the same name from 2004.


Copenhagen policeman Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) has been reassigned by his supervisor in Tonder to a temporary post as the sole police officer in the village of Skarrild, situated in a boggy lowland. Robert was just out of therapy for a breakdown he suffered after threatening his wife and her lover with a gun. He longs for his stay here to be over quickly so that he can reunite with his daughter, Josefine, who has been told he is in Australia.

In Skarrild, Robert meets some of the unusual locals, Dr. Zerleng (Lars Brygmann) and his two cronies, who are looking for him to become the fourth player in their regular card game. He also meets Ingelise Buhl (Lene Maria Christensen), a victim of marital abuse, who sets about insinuating herself into Robert's daily life. Robert also visits the local bicycle shop, but no one is there, and he is told the owner suddenly disappeared some time ago. Following a few minor incidents, it has become clear to him that the residents prefer to mete out justice in their own way, rather than involve the authorities in Tonder.

In an effort to be protective of Ingelise, Robert developes feelings for her. After an instance of abuse by her husband, Jorgen (Kim Bodnia), he goes to her home to check on her. He enters through an open door, to find Jorgen passed out on the stairs leading up to their bedroom. He finds Ingelise lying in bed, somewhat battered, and she begins to seduce him. He succumbs, and when Ingelise's moans threaten to rouse Jorgen, Robert muffles her with a pillow, accidentally suffocating her. He is able to sneak away without waking Jorgen, who is still on the stairs in a drunken stupor. The next day, the locals are alerted, and Robert reenters the scene of his mishap to investigate. When the doctor arrives to examine the body, Robert makes a vague attempt at telling the truth, but is coerced by the doctor, who declares the death is due to cardiac arrest. He doesn't want the Tonder authorities in on this, even though he believes that Jorgen actually killed his wife, and says he doesn't want their daughter, Dorthe (Mathilde Maack) left an orphan. Robert is conflicted and suffers guilt.

As Robert prepares to attend Ingelise's funeral, he realizes he has lost a button from his uniform pocket during their tussle. At the funeral luncheon, he is advised to keep an eye on Jorgen because the townsfolk don't like wife-killers, and they all believe that Jorgen is guilty. That night, Robert parks outside Jorgen's house and in the morning, sees several men in two cars taking him away, and follows them to the bog. They are forcing Jorgen at gunpoint to enter the bog. For the first time, Robert pulls out his pistol, aims it at the men and tells them to desist. He is then able to get Jorgen out of the bog and takes him home. He finds Dorthe hiding at the local grocer's, where she tells him that she saw him leaving her house the night Ingelise died. He is able to convince her it is a misunderstanding, and takes her back to her home.

Later, Jorgen goes to the bar and challenges Robert to a drinking duel. After six beers and five shots, the two end up at Robert's apartment, where Jorgen pulls out Robert's missing uniform button. He has an idea what happened, so Robert goes for the gun in his desk drawer and shoots Jorgen. He then takes Jorgen's body to the bog. He drives back to town and falls asleep in his police car.

The next morning, the Tonder chief of police shows up and Robert is taken along to investigate a boot (Jorgen's boot) found in the bog. Expecting the worst, Robert goes back to his cruiser to await his fate. He is joined there by the chief of police, who tells him they dredged up the body of the bicycle shop owner, and says that they could just say that Jorgen committed suicide and no one would be the wiser and that Robert could soon be back in Copenhagen at his old job, and close to his daughter. That would make things simpler. Robert manages a slight smile at the thought of being out of this place and back home again.

Robert is seen packing his bags and getting ready to leave Skarrild behind. He stops by at the doctor's ongoing card game to say goodbye, but is told that they know exactly what happened with Ingelise and Jorgen. They tell him they are glad to be rid of them because it has reduced the tension in the town, and they know things about him that could hurt him in Copenhagen. The doctor adds, "You're our man now, Robert." He sits down at the table to become their fourth player.



This film has been compared, in concept, to two films by the Coen brothers: Blood Simple (1985) and No Country for Old Men (2007).[1]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received strong reviews from film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shows that 89% of 46 critics (all but one of the top 16 critics) gave the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.3 out of 10, concluding that "this knotty Danish noir thriller steers audiences into some nicely unexpected territory."[2] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 1–100 reviews from film critics, gives a rating score of 74 based on 18 reviews.[3]


The film was first shown at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in July 2008, in the Czech Republic, where it won the Crystal Globe (Grand Prize).[4]


Terribly Happy won several Robert Awards in 2009, including Best Danish Film, Best Director, Best Female Lead, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematographer.[5]

It was the official submission of Denmark for the category of Best Foreign Language Film for the 82nd Academy Awards in March 2010.[6]


  1. ^ "IFFBoston Screening Series: Terribly Happy", Independent Film Festival of Boston, March 4, 2010. "Quickly spiraling into an intense fable reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ BLOOD SIMPLE and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, director Henrik Ruben Genz displays a unique and sometimes macabre vision of the darkest depths to which people will go to achieve a sense of security and belonging."
  2. ^ "Terribly Happy (Frygtelig lykkelig)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  3. ^ "Terribly Happy". Metacritic. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  4. ^ "Terribly Happy wins Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe". Screen International. July 13, 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  5. ^ "Frygtelig lykkelig". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  6. ^ "65 films contend for foreign-language Oscar". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. October 15, 2009. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 

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