Off-List: Den forsvundne fuldmægtig
The third off-List movie of 1971 is as usual a Danish movie and the, in my opinion, most interesting movie to come out of Denmark in 1971 was “Den forsvundne fuldmægtig” (“The Missing Clerk”).
The book by Hans Scherfig is very highly regarded in Denmark and most high school student will eventually get to read it, myself included. Oddly enough I never watched the movie version and that is a shame. It is a very good adaption.
When Theodor Amsted (Ove Sprogøe), highly placed clerk in the Ministry of Defense, fails to show up at home, his wife Mrs. Amsted (Bodil Kjer) gets worries. Mr. Amsted is always very precise and never does anything unexpected. Soon after, an exploded body is found just outside town (half a mile from where I live!) and the police concludes it is Theodor Amsted who has blown himself up. For Mrs. Amsted this is a blow, but in her home Mr. Amsted has never been more present and highly respected now that he is dead.
But Mr. Amsted is not dead. Instead he has taken the bus to a little village on the north coast where he rents a room. Mr. Amsted has finally escaped the prison of expectations, respectability and conformity he has lived in all his life. Now he is free at last, but at a loss what to do with this freedom.
Confused, it is almost a relief for him when he is eventually found by the police and imprisoned. In prison he can live the ordered and boring life he has trained for all his life and without being questioned by a nagging wife. He is finally happy.
It is an interesting story with a point, as relevant today as back then. Always doing what you are told, obeying the rules, living inside the box kills something in people and make them automatons. Mr. Amsted wants to be free, desperately enough to fake his death, but he has no clue what to do with it and freedom is scary when you never had any. It is bittersweet to watch Mr. Amsted trying to find the child he lost and being so miserable at it.
The village he ends up in is also full of characters, people of small minds who are terribly busy with everybody else. In particular Karl Stegger as Martin Hageholm, a pensioned postman, is hilarious, zealously looking out for strangers violating… anything. In fact, I could watch this movie just for him. Although as a character he has very little importance for the story, he completely steals the scenes he a appear in and the gentle Theodor Amsted looks very small next to this larger than life busybody.
Another noteworthy character is Bodil Kjer’s Mrs. Amsted. Her life is so entirely defined by her status as wife of the highly respected clerk that nothing is allowed to disturb the order of things. Having her husband return from the grave is most irregular. Already she is busy forming her son Leif in the same image as her father. Throughout the movie she speaks nonstop in all her scenes, while I do not recall Leif saying a word. His little rebellion is to hide the food he does not like under the table. She is a perfect nightmare.
It is also a lot of fun to see places I have grown familiar with the two years I have lived here. Amager Fælled where the body exploded is very close and much nearer the city today than back then and those villages on the north coast are now busy resort towns.
“Den forsvundne fuldmægtig” is hilarious and tragic, human and diabolic. It is also highly recommended, also for an international audience.