Review: The Cake Dynasty
- The first feature film by Denmark’s Christian Lollike presents itself as a disturbing comedy which takes clichés to the extreme
Presented in a world premiere within the Zurich Film Festival’s International Competition, The Cake Dynasty [+see also:
interview: Christian Lollike
film profile] confirms multi-award-winning Danish dramatist Christian Lollike’s predilection for topical themes and political overtones. His first fiction feature is shot through with a multitude of “uncomfortable” subjects: fatphobia and sugar addiction, immigration and the coexistence of different cultures, and mental illness and freedom of worship, which don’t always rub along too well. Determined to investigate each and every one of these themes to their extreme limits and unperturbed by taboos, Christian Lollike has launched himself into an incredibly risky endeavour.
(Very) politically incorrect, The Cake Dynasty tells the story of Niels Agger (Nicolas Bro), an overweight pastry chef and company director who is frustrated with life and unable to save his confectionary business from failing, and who subsequently tries to take his own life. On hand to rescue him is Zeinab (Bahar Pars), a cleaning lady of Iraqi origin whose employers ignore her and treat her with suspicion simply because she wears the veil. Their mutual attraction is more or less immediate. An unexpected feeling invades Niels, to the point of convincing him, despite his family’s virulent objections, that Zeinab is the woman of his life.
As this frustrated father slowly regains vigour thanks to his charming yet mysterious new girlfriend, his wife Else (Tina Gylling Mortensen) and daughter June (Emma Sehested Hoeg), who has just graduated from management school and wants to take over the family business with her boyfriend, try to find ways to stop the family’s assets from dissolving in the sugar of the ultra-calorific sweets they produce. They want to modernise the firm by selling diet biscuits capable of appealing to modern-day palates, but Niels and Zeinab want to offer their customers a typical Middle Eastern bakery, thereby uniting Arab culture and Danish identity.
This brief summary of the film might lead readers to believe it’s a fairly classic comedy revolving around good feelings and a pinch of humour. But the way in which Christian Lollike develops the story, which is punctuated by obscure twists (Niels and Zeinab’s decision to include his wife Elsa in their amorous delirium), moments of pure joy (the dismembering of a deer killed by Niels during a hunting trip, which it’s genuinely hard to make sense of) and a kind of humour which often leaves us uneasy, turns the film into something else entirely. And whilst the Danish director’s singular and politically incorrect approach to the main themes in his film seems intentional and justified – our obsession with weight and fear of facing up to otherness - the audience’s reaction when faced with exasperating situations which verge on disturbing (and which also play with taboos linked to religion) is definitely harder to predict.
The constant toing and froing between situations which are entertaining, seemingly light-hearted (such as the introduction, in the factory, of exercise bikes on which staff can burn excess calories), sensitive (such as the matter of converting to Islam “out of love” or polygamy) and disturbing (Zeinab’s tragic end, obesity seen more as a lack of self-control than an illness) sometimes causes us to lose track of the story, which seems to fade away over time, up until the tragic nature of the epilogue which is sure to leave audiences stunned.
Christian Lollike definitely proves he’s not afraid to speak his mind in his first feature film. But we can’t help but ask how far political incorrectness can be pushed without creating excessive levels of discomfort, which detract from his otherwise justified intentions.
(Translated from Italian)
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