Next Scandinavian Hopes

in 44th Haugesund International Film Festival

by György Kárpáti

Scandinavian cinema is sexy. We’ve know that for some time now. The incredible success of Nordic films is a kind of Cinderella dream that seems will never end. Directors from the region confirm this notion, saying they never ever expected to enjoy such a long run, which has included national and international box office hits, festival darlings and continuous Academy Award nods. The amazing thing is that Scandinavian film makers have been able to generate both auteur gems and commercial crowd pleasers, achieving a popularity not limited to their regions or to Europe. Successes have ranged from genre films such as Norway’s Headhunters (Hodejegerne) to Sweden’s global box-office hit The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann), not to mention the Q-department series that also scored on the international level (Keeper of the Lost Causes / Kvinden i buret, The Absent One / Fasandræberne, Conspiracy of Faith / Flaskepost fra P). Since Susanne Bier’s In a Better World (Hævnen) won the Foreign Language Film Oscar for Denmark in 2011, Nordic films have received four nods in that category (Norway and Denmark in 2013, Denmark in 2014, and Denmark in 2016). Scandinavian films are also regular contenders and winners in Berlin, Cannes and Venice. And international sensations like Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and Nikolaj Arcel have managed to have an impact abroad, and in Hollywood, without losing track of their Scandinavian roots. This trend is not limited to directors and screenwriters: actors Stellan Skarsgard and Mads Mikkelsen are well established as international stars, and in February Alicia Vikander received an Academy Award, becoming just the second Swedish actress to ever win Oscar for acting (Ingrid Bergman won three).

Considering these facts. a film critic in Haugesund is especially be curious about what’s next for Nordic cinema. The Norwegian International Film Festival in Norway’s seaside town of Haugesund has been the major showcase for new Nordic films for 44 years now. But this is the first year the FIPRESCI jury has judged its lineup. The 10 titles we watched, consisting of nine dramatic features and a documentary, covered a wide spectrum in terms of both genre and quality. For anyone looking for the next Scandinavian commercial success, Norway’s Cave loomed as the most obvious prospect. But it was an odd failure and unable to get out from under an avalanche of clichés. Even the basic concept of this adventure film was misguided; the only memorable element was the spectacular Norwegian landscape. Otherwise, it was just a predictable tale of three friends and the bloody consequences of an ex-boyfriend’s jealousy. Other unremarkable genre attempts included the Finnish road-movie Off the Map (Äkkilähtö), the Icelandic romantic comedy In front of Others (Fyrir framan annað fólk) and the Danish zombie horror flick What We Became (Sorgenfri).

As we searched for festival prospects and award contenders, the brightest star on the sky was undoubtedly Denmark’s The Day Will Come (Der kommer en dag), which won the FIPRESCI award for good reasons. (For more on this, read Brian D. Johnson’s review of the film.) Though Denmark will not send Jesper W. Nielsen’s exceptional period piece to the Oscars— that country’s shortlist of three films for the Foreign Language category are The Commune (Kollektivet) by Thomas Vinterberg, Walk with Me (De standhaftige) by Lisa Ohlin and Land of Mine (Under sandet) by Martin Zandvliet—this heartbreaking orphanage drama is without question one of the highlights of the Nordic film making in 2016.

Interestingly, there were other two other period pieces which that deserve mention: A Serious Game (Den allvarsamma leken) by Pernilla August (see Nils Saeveras’ review) and the festival’s opening film The Lion Woman (Løvekvinnen) by Vibeke Idsøe.

Finland’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies) has already been discovered, having been named best film in this year’s Cannes section Un Certain Regard. The movie obviously has a chance of a longer run for Finland in the award season. Another Cannes contender (and later the C.I.C.A.E. award winner) was Shahrbanoo Sadat’s Wolf and Sheep, about the daily life of people in rural Afghanistan. And we will surely hear about Magnus during the award season. This documentary about Norway’s world-famous chess player, wunderkind Magnus Carlssen, is compelling enough to get some attention, though the film—which which never gets behind its subject’s mystique—falls a bit short of expectations. Sweden’s more experimental The Yard (Yarden), the story of a failed poet working in an auto plant, also has some potential, especially since the film is dealing today’s pressing immigrant issues, mixing them with intellectual themes in Malmö.

Haugesund presented a wildly mixed selection of films, yet clearly showed the strength of the Scandinavian cinema. We can surely bank on the success of Nordic cinema to continue, and there’s plenty of backup in its filmmaking ranks.

Edited by Brian Johnson