directed by Henrik Ruben Genz
(Nordisk, 2005)

For some people, waking up on the day after Valentine's Day is kind of like waking up with holiday backwash. After all, if we're not showing our appreciation and love on, say, June 14 or Nov. 14, what's the point of showing it on Feb. 14?

I was put in mind of that sentiment this week by Kinamand, a tiny Danish movie about a passive, lonely plumber and a young Chinese woman who needs to marry so she can stay in Denmark.

Keld the plumber (Bjarne Henriksen) has been dumped by his wife, who's frustrated because Keld cannot manage to put down his cigarette long enough to listen to her. He can keep their apartment, but buying his way out of the marriage will cost him more money than he has.

Help comes from a most unlikely source: Feng, the owner of a Chinese restaurant directly across the street from Keld's apartment. Keld has become a fixture there, eating at the restaurant each night and working his way through the menu, number by number, in order.

When Keld rescues Feng from a plumbing disaster, Feng proposes a deal that is "strictly pro forma," with "no hanky panky" -- he'll pay Keld to marry his sister, Ling (Vivian Wu), so she can get more permanent resident status. It is, of course, simply a marriage of convenience, but writer Kim Fupz Aakeson and director Henrik Ruben Genz resist going for the obvious cliches, even as Ling and Keld work through their basic interaction to something more meaningful.

Kinamand (translated to Chinaman) is a wonderful piece of character acting by Henriksen under the guise of a leading man role. He makes the most of the film's swerve over the last 20 minutes, from the direction you think it's going to something less "Valentine-y" but ultimately, deeper.

The colors -- from the greenish cast of the restaurant's fluorescent lights to Keld's dim apartment to the gray of working class Copenhagen -- and the way each scene is carefully framed, with sometimes only parts of rooms or bodies in view, helps us discover a world that's foreign whether it's Chinese or Danish being spoken. And Kinamand's ultimate message -- when it comes to love, don't waste time -- is a good lesson to tide us over the next 300-odd days until Valentine's Day rolls around once more.

review by
Jen Kopf

21 February 2009

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