Lykkelænder / The Happy Native

Lasse Lau’s documentary Lykkelænder focuses on the life in Greenland and the relationship between Greenlanders and Danes. More precisely, what the former group thinks of and feels about the latter, but one might ask whether everything shown to seemingly reinforce the stereotypes is just a trap to get rid of them forever.

Greenland is an autonomous constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark but once it was Denmark’s colony and its native population – similarly to other native groups around the globe – needed to live under oppression. Today Greenland is receiving bigger and bigger exposure as Greenlandic cinema, music, etc. is getting recognised and more known worldwide. However, the representation of Greenlanders – and their feelings towards the Danes – are still characterised by solid stereotypes. Lasse Lau and his characters are playing out many of those in scenes in which the natives occupy the screen and create short stories that are loosely connected to each other. The line between truth and imagined/learnt truth known as stereotypes gradually disappear, which will surely confuse and deceive many people. Due to its ambiguity, the film relates to Robert J. Flaherty’s (staged) documentary entitled Nanook of the North from 1922. Flaherty’s film sold as real story showcased how the indigenous people of Canada’s northern Quebec region lived. In reality, many of the scenes were staged and the actual way of living of those people was never shown. Hence reality was rejected for the sake of enhancing stereotypes. Whereas Flaherty’s film had the intention to reinforce the Western views of native people, Lau’s playing with them and gives lots of power to the Greenlanders.

The film Lykkelænder definitely has a flow and a strange charm, not in a bad but rather a confusing way, and a small dose of humour as well as symbolic elements featured play an essential role in it. Many of the scenes have an undertone, so it appears something is wrong. The weirdness increases scene by scene until the punchline comes at the very end of the film when it becomes obvious that those strange moments are generated by the stereotypes themselves. Among the symbolic elements, we can find a pig – made of some kind of material – that pops up in different places throughout the city; anywhere at any time. As it is probably globally known, Denmark is famous for its pig farms, so one can possibly guess that it represents Denmark. It seems it plays Big Brother that wants to oversee everything even if it comes across as kind of awkward today. An average viewer will surely get confused and can’t really make sense of the events right away. They won’t necessarily comprehend why a native couple, who happens to be musicians, talk about winning the lottery and then start playing music in an enormous house, or why a woman is shouting her husband’s name in the street when her husband is not there… The film is comprised of scenes like these and takes its viewers on a journey of discomfort, just like what a native person might feel when non-indigenous people begin listing all the stereotypes they are told or taught to be to true.

Lykkelænder, which is also a history lesson on Greenland, is truly one of a kind, however, one undoubtedly needs time to realise that. The weirdness only goes away if the various layers are peeled off and the different puzzles are pieced together – when two Native Greenlandic actors sitting in a cinema finally reveal they were playing a character. That’s why the film stands out: it gives room for the natives to speak up and tell us what you might have seen is something you were told to see and believe but not a reality. Lau’s film belongs to the films in which self-representation gain importance. It’s truly about time to forget Flaherty’s piece forever and give space to motion pictures that don’t consist of staged scenes just for the sake of creating a superior feeling in its viewers.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.