Jennifer Revit’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy is the tale of one woman’s journey through Scandinavia. This collage of captured moments accompanied by one unfaltering voice works like a video diary as the narrator moves between Denmark, Norway and Sweden. While there are glimmers of potential, this short draws attention to some of the issues of the travelogue form.
The shakily filmed scenes are sometimes cleverly linked with the nameless woman’s words. For example, as the narrator observes that “people here are younger”, the image switches to a shot of a graveyard. However, most of the scenes lack this intelligent context and the monologue is marred by clunky phrasing such as “it feels, looks and tastes not the same”.
In addition to this, one of the most glaring problems of this short is highlighted in the first minute. After labelling ‘The Danes’ as a “biking people” the narrator admits, “I’m not sure of the nationality of the headscarf wearing and kebab eating people but I think they’re Turkish and Lebanese?” In this short space, this film has flattened out hugely diverse groups of people into two categories: biking Danes and kebabs and headscarves. One question that immediately springs to mind is why do these have to be two mutually exclusive groups? Can’t people who wear headscarves also be Danes?
Boiling down a whole host of complex and diverse identities to a bike, a headscarf or a kebab is hugely dehumanising and gives a frighteningly binary account of the world. It is also a window to the ignorance of the narrator and emphasises the problem of portraying several nations through a single gaze.
One lens and one voice means that the power of representation resides solely in one person. There is no one to challenge their view; there are no alternative narratives. And in travelogues such as this one, more often than not the stories of many are told from one economically privileged perspective. The historical Grand Tour, Claude Lévi-Strauss and the more recent ‘Gap Yah’ phenomenon are all examples of how travel narratives are often restricted to the wealthy. A long story about sparkling water and sentences beginning ‘But, like my Uber driver said…’ shows that this film is no different.
There is also something quite colonially anthropological about Revit’s outlook on Scandinavia. At the end of the film, the narrator tells how ‘these places’ (supposedly Denmark, Sweden and Norway) ‘are easily conquered’. Moreover, in one quite disturbing sequence she notes that ‘the bus was like the city bus anywhere else’ and the passengers ‘were generally a little sadder and a little less good looking than the general population’. She describes ‘the faint odour of ick’ as the scene flicks to a pack of snorting deer. As well as directly insulting them, this sequence seems to link the passengers with the gruff mammals, not only flattening the identities of these people, but actually pointing to a lack of humanity.
While I do not want to say that all opinions of those from wealthy backgrounds are null and void, this is an example of how dangerous it can be to continually portray the world through the lens of one minute strata of society. ‘Tourists in Denmark are just like tourists everywhere else: they have eyes but don’t see’ - the narrator’s critique of others is more aptly applied to herself. No one can see everything or everyone, and trying to encompass such wide-ranging identities in one seventeen minute story is woefully short-sighted. Although this film had the potential of stunning scenery and exciting urban landscapes, the self-indulgent treatment of its subjects is its major downfall.
‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.