Domino Sequence By Tadeusz Szczepanski
Scandinavian cinema has been speaking with its own highly distinctive voice for years, yet its voice sounded exceptionally loud and clear at this year’s Gothenburg International Film Festival. Almost all of the eight features that entered the Nordic Competition were characterized by very high artistic standards. The key thematic components – life under the shadow of death, loneliness, alienation, evil and human wickedness – are in line with Scandinavian cultural tradition, however, the genuinely drama, excellent performances and the creative reflection of the realities of this troubled world allowed the moral and existential content to gain new strength.
From among the six features, not counting the Icelandic documentary and a Danish animated film, only Kocken ( The Chef ), the Swedish film screened at the opening night gala, makes reference to a not so distant past. Mats Arehn’s slightly autobiographical feature follows a twenty-year old cook in 1970, as he gets his assignment on board a merchant ship bound for Cape Town. He has no idea that the encounter with his demonical superior – the ostentatious, hard macho man with homosexual inclinations – in the ship’s kitchen, will change his life. The main attraction of the film is undoubtedly the brilliant Kjell Bergqvist in the main role – a fascinating artistic creation, as well as the claustrophobic atmosphere of the ship, where the sadistic chef rules with absolute power and uses his devious tricks.
Swedish director Mats Arehn created the closed-off world governed by its own psychological laws, whereas Susan Bier – the Danish director – has convincingly proved that the exotic issue of Middle East terrorism, its manifestation observed almost daily in our small, sheltered universe on television, can quite unexpectedly force its way into our lives. Her Brodre ( Brothers ) is a story of a UN soldier who is reported killed in Afghanistan. When he returns alive after several months of hellish imprisonment, he is a broken and embittered man. Tormented by what he did to survive and unable to confide in anyone he becomes increasingly paranoid, and sinks deeper and deeper into madness, which almost costs him his family. The brutality and the horrors of war in Brothers stand in contrast to the human warmth, tenderness and intimacy. The intimate world of an ordinary family appears to be defenceless in the face of seemingly distant threats.
Yet daily lives can suddenly be transformed by more or less random events. The spread of evil as exemplified by the fates of seven characters is a central theme in Paha maa ( The Frozen Land, FIPRESCI Prize), the Finnish film by Aku Louhimies. Joblessness and alcoholism, and resulting frustration, breed violence and despair, yet crime can also arise as a consequence of the best, noble intentions a young hacker has when he steals money in order to donate it to the poor. The message and story line were inspired by The False Note – a short story about the phenomenon of evil – by Leo Tolstoy. Evil is passed on from one man to another, which is illustrated as the falling domino sequence. The director managed not only to unravel the sources of evil in men, and the cause of misery, but also to analyse its social and psychological mechanism, and bring fresh hope to thousands of sufferers.