In Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Toshiro Mifune played Kikuchiyo, the son of a peasant farmer who lays claim to the noble status of a samurai warrior. In Mifune, the new film from Danish director S�ren Kragh-Jacobsen, Anders W. Berthelsen plays Kresten, another man who’s hiding his common past. Kresten has left the farm where he was raised and moved to Copenhagen, where he has not only achieved success in the business world but has even married the boss’ daughter. On the morning after his wedding night, Kresten is jolted to hear that his father has died. It’s painful and awkward for Kresten: not only has he told his new wife and in-laws that his family is dead, but in reality his sole surviving relative, his older brother Rud (Jesper Asholt), is severely retarded.
If this sounds like a Danish remake of Rain Man, think again. Mifune replaces the American film’s contrivances and attention-drawing acting styles with warm characterizations and a sweet sense of the absurd. It’s Rain Man without all the bull.
As tangled as this may sound, Mifune doesn’t whip its people along any phony character arcs. Kresten isn’t made to resent Rud at the beginning just so he can learn to love him by the end; instead, he loves Rud all along. Mifune moves around, capturing unexpected moods and moments, such as the visit from Rud’s oddball friends who fill the house with cigar smoke and the sound of flamenco guitars, or the paint fight between Kresten and Liva that ends on an abruptly sour note. The story emphasizes the brothers here, the lovers there, and even takes time to scrutinize what’s going on between Rud and the near-delinquent Bjarke. Mifune’s characters all must share the same farm.
Berthelsen is a pleasant performer, but he lacks weight and resonance as Kresten. (His impersonation of Mifune is nondescript when it could have been memorably exact.) Asholt is pitch-perfect, though. He’s so immersed in Rud that he’s like a figure from a documentary, and he’s not afraid to show how the Ruds of this world can sometimes be a simple pain in the neck. Iben Hjejle’s performance as the stoic, private Liva alone makes Mifune worth seeing. Her toughness seems like a projection of real armor; she makes Liva cagey and tired in specific, familiar ways. (Hjejle also appears in Stephen Frears’ upcoming High Fidelity.)
Mifune is the third film issued under the aegis of Dogma 95, the group of Danish directors whose "Vow of Chastity" stands in reaction to Hollywood artificiality. As other Dogma directors have done for their films, Kragh-Jacobsen has issued a tongue-in-cheek "Confession" listing Mifune’s "moral transgressions" of the Vow, including the endearing admission that he helped "chase the neighbor’s free range hens across our location." Such gentle chaos is in the spirit of Mifune.
– Tom Block