HIP HIP HURRA[H]! (Kjell Grede, 1987)

Painters are a tortured lot—and when they are sculptors, too: hopeless! One of the loveliest, most lyrical films about painters and art, specifically, about Denmark’s Norwegian-born Søren Krøyer (Stellan Skarsgård, magnificent), a Scandinavian icon, Swedish writer-director Kjell Grede’s Hip Hip Hurra! focuses on the community of artists to which Krøyer belonged in the late nineteenth century. In 1882 Krøyer (also known as Peder Severin Krøyer and P S Krøyer) had fled to it—from the family mental illness fear of which dogged him. Grede shot the film on location in Skagen, on Denmark’s northern coast.
     The community has its dark side; the closeness of participants causes envy of Krøyer to bubble up now and then. “How does it feel to fly when we only walk?” Krøyer is asked. Christian Krogh: “I will not talk money with you, because you sell everything you paint.” I wish there were more “artists’ talk” in the film—such as: “Lately, spatial perception has become a mirror-image of society at large. Obscuration in painting is passé.”
     Visually, Grede’s film evokes Krøyer’s paintings, including the 1888 one that gives the film its title. Along the beach, Grede and Sten Holmberg (best cinematographer, Venice) get the colors right, but not the light; in Summer Evening at Skagen, the Artist’s Wife with a Dog on the Beach (1892), and again in Summer Evening by Skagen’s Beach (1899), the pale shimmer of light seems an interior as well as exterior light—a projection of the couple’s melancholy over time’s passing.
     Why does the painterly style work so well here, but not in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge (1952)? Krøyer’s restraint allows the evocations of his work to relax into the film’s breathing fabric, while Toulouse-Lautrec’s much brasher, brilliantly theatrical style brings Huston’s gorgeous film to something of a halt each time Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris evoke it. It is against this academic, selfconscious sluggishness that Huston’s vivid use of the can-can wages a frenzied assault.
     Grede doesn’t cheapen his material, or insult our intelligence, by “telling a story”; rather, he paints a portrait of the artists’ community and evokes a spirit of suspended time—a measure of Krøyer’s (and others’) mortal anxiety and self-dissatisfaction.
     Krøyer, battling mental illness, was in and out of hospital; at 58, he died of syphilis in 1809. We know his story. Whenever we watch the film, we bring it ourselves.


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