Danish Cinema in Full Bloom

in 15th Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival

by Christian Monggaard

Two Danish films were in competition at the recent International Film Festival in Sochi, event dedicated to European filmmaking. The two very different films, Jesper W. Nielsen’s tragicomic “The Bouncer” (Manden bag doren) and Anders Thomas Jensen’s offbeat stylized “The Green Butchers” (De grønne Slagtere), were very well received by the festival audience and the juries alike. The latter even picked up two prizes, the FIPRESCI Award and an acting award for Mads Mikkelsen from the festival’s international jury.

The two Danish films at the IFF in Sochi and the awards given to “The Green Butchers” seem to be further testament to the success of Danish films both in Denmark and abroad. Despite the country’s limited output films from Denmark screen at festivals around the world, and often bring home awards.

The two films also prompted a positive reaction from a member of the festival’s main jury, who was glad to see that excellent films are still coming out of Denmark. She posed the question: “What is it that you do right in Denmark? How are your directors able to tell such strong stories, when directors from other countries are not?”

As for the second part of the question, it is not the case, since good films are coming from all parts of the world. But answering the second part of the question got me thinking about Danish films in general and the incredible journey it has been on since 1994, when what you could call the modernization of the film business in Denmark was in its infancy.

One could argue that it all boils down to one film, Ole Bornedal’s very popular thriller “The Nightwatch” (Nattevagten), which caught the eye of the Weinstein brothers and was remade in America by Bornedal. “The Nightwatch” was the first truly modern genre film in Danish and it showed the way for other young directors who were influenced by American films and American storytelling. They were not afraid to make genre films and infuse them with their own, more personal, European sensibility.

But in truth it is, of course, not that simple. The answer also involves the National Film School and the National Theatre School. These two institutions have been educating a new and very versatile generation of film makers and actors, of both sexes, who want to tell stories that they themselves want to see in the movie theatres. Very often it has been and still is stories about their own generation and their own world. This also explains the films success among the younger members of the audience.

The Danish Film Institute, which have been fighting for funding of the Danish film industry for many years, also play a vital part in the success of Danish film, since almost no film is produced without government support.

Last, but definitely not least, we have the most acclaimed Danish director of them all, Lars von Trier. He has been drawing attention to himself and Danish film with his often eccentric behavior and his strong personal films. If there is to be one sole base on which the international success of the Danish film industry rests, it is Lars von Trier, who has been both very popular and elitist with films like “The Kingdom”, “Breaking the Waves”, “Dancer in the Dark”, “Dogville” and the Dogma manifesto — by no means a small feat.

Since 1994 Danish films — “Italian for Beginners”, “The One and Only”, “Minor Mishaps”, “Flickering Lights”, “The Celebration”, “Mifune”, “Reconstruction”, “Kira’s Reason§, “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”, “The Bench”, “The Inheritance”, “Skagerrak”, “Rembrandt”, to name a few — have been increasingly more popular both locally and internationally and have been celebrating triumphs at the big festivals in Cannes, Venice, Moscow and Berlin and at a lot of smaller festivals, most recently, of course, at the IFF in Sochi.

Naturally not all Danish films are just as excellent, but what has been very reassuring during the last few years is that the good films still seem to be coming, and that the Danish filmmakers by no means seem to be slowing down. Right now we are waiting for the new films from directors like Thomas Vinterberg, Susanne Bier, Lone Scherfig, Jesper W. Nielsen, Anders Thomas Jensen, Lars von Trier, Per Fly, Ole Christian Madsen, Christoffer Boe, amongst many others. What more could one ask for!?