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Wilbur (Wants To Kill Himself)

  Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself
Wilbur thinks it over.

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Director Lone Scherfig was forever plucked from the obscurity of Danish cinema with the 2000 Dogme hit "Italian for Beginners," which gathered nominations and awards aplenty, among them the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Her latest feature, the darkly funny and smart "Wilbur (Wants To Kill Himself)" (IMDb listing), picks up the themes of happiness and unhappiness from "Italian" and takes them a step further, turning out an immensely touching story about life and death, and love in between.

Eternal pessimist Wilbur (Jamie Sives) wants to kill himself. Pills, gas, hanging, drowning, he's tried it all, as yet without much success. His perpetually optimistic brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) in turn has made it his life's purpose to make Wilbur happy. A girlfriend is what's needed, Harbour believes. It's an opinion shared by Horst (Mads Mikkelsen), the cynical psychologist from Wilbur's self-help group, and Moira (Julia Davis), the head nurse with an obvious crush on the enigmatic patient with the deadpan wit and dark good looks. While Wilbur grapples with the intricacies of dating, Harbour falls deeply in love with single mother Alice (Shirley Henderson), and just when it seems things are taking a turn for the better for everyone, fate strikes a blow that threatens to destroy their newfound happiness.

This is the first English language feature for Scherfig, who relishes the freedom and familiarity working in Denmark affords her and strives to balance it with the necessity of making commercially more viable films in English, with only exceptionally good material luring her abroad.

An idea Scherfig hatched before "Italian" ever hit screens, "Wilbur" was originally intended to be a Danish film as well, co-written by Scherfig and accomplished screenwriter and fellow countryman Anders Thomas Jensen (whose "Election Night" won a 1999 Academy Award for Best Short Film). Then the opportunity of a Scottish-Danish co-production arose. The script was rewritten and set in Glasgow, a lucky coincidence in hindsight that raised the stakes of the story with the contrast between rich and poor significantly starker in Scotland than Denmark, the director explains.

And it works a treat.

"Wilbur" is a pitch black comedy with a serious side, a film that impresses with its cinematography and direction as much as with its impeccable performances. Sives is a pleasure to watch, outstanding moments being encounters with Davis' nurse Moira and her bodily orifices as well as Mikkelsen's disenchanted Horst, while Rawlins and Henderson ("Trainspotting," "Bridget Jones," and the fabulous "Intermission") beautifully anchor the story.

Filmfodder Grade: A

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