Ingmar Bergman's spirit over Gothenburg By Daira Abolina

in 17th Goteborg International Film Festival

by Daira Abolina

The viewers and jury of the Gothenburg Film Festival were offered more than 400 films of different types, lengths and genres, including 48 films made in the Nordic countries (18-Sweden, 10-Denmark, 8-Finland, 6-Norway, 4-Iceland). Consequently slightly more than 10% of the films presented at one of the most prominent international festivals of the Nordic region, came from that area. I would not dare to suggest the right proportion, yet it is clear that the filmgoers expect a worldwide film spectrum , while the festival guests look forward to a rich Scandinavian collection. Did we gain any insights and were we impressed? The answer is a positive one.

Let me deal with the Nordic Competition 2005. The 8 films of this section were judged also by the FIPRESCI jury, which I had the honour to be part of. The only picture representing Iceland in this collection was a musical full-length documentary Screaming Masterpieces. ( 2005, dir. Ari Alehander Ergis Magnusson), which did perform the essential cultural educational function (how many foreigners are aware of the peculiar Icelandic singing manner, motivation and measures? Bjork is the Icelandic wonder, but she has some confederates…) The film showed respect for the intonation of music and transferred it to the image of the film. It did not overdo the rythm, cleverly exploiting quotes from music videos and previous documentaries. TV channels are already showing interest in this Icelandic offering.

There were several feature-length puppet in the Nordic Competition, claiming uniqueness, though some used similar techniques to films like Team America: The World Police . Yet it should be noted that Strings (dir.: Andres Ronow Klarlund) from Denmark was made more according to the rules of features than those of animation. The director’s skill in creating not only human types, but real characters and the growing intensity of the action by use of static puppets should be praised. I would dare to describe the colour scheme of the film as nordically cool, lucid, and sublime at the same time. However, existential problems seemed too heavy for the fragile puppet shoulders.

The full-length feature category offered several vivid tales of today. The Difficulties of Growing -is what I would call the aspirations of the Scandinavian directors to reflect grown-up loneliness in the teenage world. The most graphic yet not the most convincing was the attraction of opposites in the Swedish movie Sandor (dir.: Henrik Georgsson), a present day Scandinavian variation on the Romeo and Juliet theme. A fragile talented guy, an up-and-coming ballet dancer, falls for a girl he has met on a chat line. She is hiding her loneliness behind her wild lifestyle. Social discrepancies turn into moral incompatibility. Children are the ones who have to straighten out their parents chaotic lives, while finding their own identities and satisfying their hunger for love, trying to build their own value system. How to preserve oneself from destroying one’s soul in the grownup world?

Considerably sharper is the quest for escape (most often from themselves) performed by the characters in the Finnish movie Frozen Land (dir.: Aku Louhimies). They pass their despair from one to another, where killers and victims are all sections of one chain. Everything depends on the moment, when fate will stop the run. The mutual relations between grownups and teenagers becomes more and more estranged, like two civilisations, never meeting even within one space. People are cut off one from another, incapable of hearing and feeling. The theme of crime and punishment grows in strength, law enforcement and judiciary power are shown as formal and weak institutions, where the only judges are people themselves and their consciences.

The characters of the Danish film Brother (dir.: Susanne Bier) have to go through their personal hell of crime and punishment. It is a story of two brothers – the right and the degraded one. Then both the young men face emotional tremors so strong that they change beyond recognition. A model father, making a successful military career manages to return from Afghanistan alive, as the only one out of his brigade. Yet he is unable to integrate into civilian life. A traditionally built, but strong psychological drama.

Almost all the characters of the Swedish The Chief (dir.: Mat Arehn) stumble in their identity quest. A likeable evocation of the 1970’s, it is a story about a gay smuggler and the young cabin-boy. Yet beware: the human drama appears within an entertaining format. Albeit Swedes are not the first to have sown this seed in the minds of the viewer.

Kissed by Winter (dir.: Sara Jonhnsen, Sweden, Norway) represents the strange enigmatic mysticism so typical of Nordic literature, raising associations with Smilla’s Sense of Snow . Likewise a woman is at the centre of this story. A provincial doctor, she not only cures the people of the snowed-up village, she also investigates their destinies, trying to hide her own fate. I am unaware whether people in the north sense loneliness in a different way, but the overabundant snow in these Nordic Competition stories, brings a chill into human relations as well. A numbness of the soul is a relevant diagnosis, present in the latest Scandinavian films. The section could offer a single comedy My Jealous Barber (dir.: Anete Sjursen). An untraditional love triangle in which the woman acts as a catalyst to shake up the male world. Or it might be nothing more or less than fear of falling in love and assuming responsibility.

Meanwhile the spirit of Ingmar Bergman from the spectacular poster of the Gothenburg festival constantly reminded us to search within the human soul. Even though one may get really frightened.