Scandinavian Dramas versus Baltic Comedies By Maria Ulfsak
Every year the Stockholm International Film Festival offers a selection of Nordic and Baltic films, the program is called “Northern Lights” and six of the films were also competing for one of the FIPRESCI awards.
This year the jury decided unanimously to give the award to a Norwegian film Restless (URO), the impressive debut by Stefan Faldbakken, whose modern approach to a classic cop drama is raw and naturalistic. Hans Petter (Nicolai Cleve Broch) works in a special elite police unit that fights organised crime, but as he plays a dangerous game on both sides of the law, he gets trapped in lies and has to face up to his past. Even though the viewers are not given any reasons to feel for Hans Petter him his bad choices – his background is stereotypical consisting of a criminal father who had died a long time ago and an alcoholic mother – the film makes them interested in him. Restless is a realistic, tense picture of contemporary urban life that introduces the dark and disgusting side of Oslo that most of us have no idea exists.
The Danish Princess by director Anders Morgenthaler that premiered in Cannes where it opened the Director’s Fortnight is an interesting and very stylish violent animation film. It tells a story about the porn industry, raising moral questions and offering visual pleasure at the same time. The other Danish piece, Offscreen by Christoffer Boe, was equally exciting and innovative. (His Allegro was in the main competition in Stockholm last year). The actor Nicholas Bro uses the camera of the director Christoffer Boe to make a documentary about his life. When Bro disappears, the director Boe edits the footage the actor has left behind. The film is simple and plain, but brilliant in a way – very good acting and intense, hand-held camerawork are hypnotic. Offscreen discusses the cameras that surround us everywhere (whether one likes it or not), and the way that, to some of us, real life might start to seem like a film or a reality show. The end of Offscreen, depicting a naked fat man covered in blood having sex with a corpse, makes one wonder what they teach students at the Film School of Denmark. One of the theories that could be applied to all of the films listed above is that the relative lack of violence in real life might be one of the factors that bring more violence into art.
Two of the films in the “Northern Lights” programme were from Estonia. Peeter Simm’s Fed Up! (Kõrini) is a comedy about suicide. The film is in a way a road-trip, produced by Estonians and Germans, and it is also filmed in the both countries. It was a nice surprise to see the audience’s positive reactions to the film, because in its homeland the criticism of Fed Up! was not too warm. Veiko Õunpuu’s Empty (Tühirand) is a 43-minute elegant picture about intellectuals spending a summer weekend in the magnificent Estonian countryside. The love triangle is told with humour, the amazing Estonian landscapes and beautiful camerawork make the film as poetic as it is funny.
The third Baltic film competing for the “Northern Lights” prize was Latvian director Laila Pakalnina’s The Hostage (Klinieks). During its opening weekend in Estonia The Hostage had 41 viewers in Tallinn (the result for the whole week was 73), even though the film had a large advertising campaign and the film was partly financed by Estonia. There must be a reason for such things. The script is actually pretty good – a plane hijacker and a seven-year-old boy making surprising demands on the police – and there is something about the film’s style that makes it very specific. This is not a film for the masses, but it can offer great pleasure to viewers who share the kind of sense of humour it represents.
Generally the “Northern Lights” competition programme was exciting and gave a good overview of what kind of films are being made in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Though the quality of the films was unequal, the three dark Nordic dramas and three light Baltic comedies offered a possibility to understand the trends in the area.