The Best of Nordic Cinema and Beyond

in 39th Göteborg Film Festival

by Blagoja Kunovski

Although the focus of this year’s very rich program was once again the three main Scandinavian-Nordic competitions: Dragon Award Best Nordic Film, The Ingmar Bergman International Debut Award and Best Nordic Documentary (with each having eight films and its own international jury), the Goteborg film festival had many interesting additional sections as a spotlight to the best features, feature documentaries and shorts of all genres selected from the latest Scandinavian and worldwide film productions. All sub-program titles speak of their own content and their conception in selection: Swedish Premieres (a program of Swedish feature-length and documentary features, among them the latest documentary Hotellet from the leading director of the older generation, Kristian Petri, who was also in the jury for the Ingmar Bergman Debut Award); TV Drama (Scandinavian films as a part from the TV Serials, such as the latest offering Trapped by the leading Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur); Gala, was a selection of the films already successful at last year’s festivals, some of them laureates or Oscar Nominated, like the recent Venice Competition film, The Danish Girl by Tom Hooper, who was awarded at the festival with the Honorary Dragon, or the Iranian produced three-hours-long historical spectacle, Mohammad: The Messenger of God, directed by the experienced (and one of the leading Iranian directors) Majid Majidi, shot by the three-time Oscar winning Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, plus Room, the latest film by the most successful Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (and Audience Award winner at Toronto); Italy in Focus, a selection of the best Italian feature and documentary films from the last year, among them, the latest film Maraviglioso Boccaccio by the Taviani brothers; and also in competition last year in Venice for the Golden Lion: A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino, starring Tilda Swinton, Ralf Fiennes and Dakota Johnson; and Blood of my Blood by the veteran director Marco Bellocchio, including the debut/opening film from Venice’s La Settimana Internacionale della Critica section, Banat by the young writer-director, Adriano Valero. The program, Italy in Focus was completed by the selection of three Italian classic/anthological films: Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, 1948) by De Sica, The Night (La Notte, 1961) by Antonioni and Fellini’s And the Ships Sails On (E la Nave va, 1983) with a foreword in the festival catalog (which is only in Swedish!, friendly advice: print it in the future only in English), by the leading Swedish director Roy Andersson.

The program section Nollywood, was composed of eight Nigerian features, from the latest production; Masters, was for sure the most quality concentrated program and a joy for the Goteborg film lovers, composed of films which are characterized as strong author creations. Among them and first of all was the film Heart of a Dog (a world premiere at last year’s Venice Competition), by the American/New York, icon, the multimedia artist, Laurie Anderson (who presided the six-member international Jury for the Main Competition Dragon Award-Best Nordic Film, and also had a Master class), an inspiring, self-reflecting, philosophical, autobiographical, total author’s creation, a kind of beyond film, dedicated to her deceased husband, the other icon of the American punk-rock scene, Lou Reed; Anomalisa, Grand Jury Prize winner last year in Venice, the feature animated film by the tandem: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson; Sokurov’s Francofonia, the critic’s Prize of Fedeora also in Venice ’15; and In Jackson Heights, (at 190 mins) the latest documentary by the leading American master of the genre, Frederick Wiseman.

The program Visionary, as the title suggests, was the selection of typical films which reflect the specific and most courageous approach in reflecting the ideas of their authors as original creators, such is Apichatpong Veerasethakul and his latest film Cemetery of Splendor, or Lewis Klar, who with his film Sixty Six shows that he belongs to the wing of American Cinema’s most original authors of the experimental film scene; In the program The Festival Favorites, the programmers of the 39th Goteborg film festival, selected, first of all the Golden Lion winner at last year’s Venice, From Afar by the talented Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas, Chronic by Michel Franco, last year’s opening Cannes film La tete Haute, by Emmanuelle Bercot, Body from last year’s Berlinale, by the Polish director Malgoska Szumowska and the Camera d’Or winner at the last Cannes, Land and Shade by the super talented Columbian director Cesar Augusto Acevedo; Finally, but not least, the program New Talents, was composed of 30 films by the young debut filmmakers, a record number which shows that the future of the world cinema is in good hands. One of the best of them is the French film Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) by the super talented young director Eva Husson (remember her name!), which, after having a great success as world premiere at Toronto and London festivals last year, first was screened at the Rotterdam festival, then in Goteborg (both overlapping and having a quite good number of same films in their programs). US/LA schooled, both, Husson and her already experienced Danish cinematographer, Mattias Troelstrup, with a very good young cast, in the summer ambience of Biarritz, have created a super universal story about the contemporary teenage, lap-toping, computer/YouTubing generation and their love-sex promiscuity, accompanied by the inspiring electronic soundtrack by White Sea.

Regarding the Main Competition of the 39th GFF, Dragon Award Best Nordic Film, which we, together with the, above mentioned, international six-members jury, judged, from eight selected films from the newest Scandinavian production, beside the winning film of our FIPRESCI Prize, the Icelandic Sparrows, among my three favorites for our award, were also, one of the three selected Danish films-The Model, a second feature by the writer-director Mads Matthiesen and the Swedish film Yard, by the 33- year-old director Mans Mansson, a three-time nominee for the Swedish Oscar/Guldbaggen. Sparrows is the second feature of the writer-director Runar Runarrson, who after his first film Volcano (2011), now tells a more intimate story about the fragile world of 16-year-old Ari, whose life is radically and dramatically changed when his mother moves with her new husband far away to Angola and he, left alone, must go to live with his alcoholic father and his loving Grandma in the provincial little town, where the rules are totally opposite to the ones in Reykjavik, where he sang in the boys choir, now facing the conservative and bloody rules of the fight for a girl he loves, working at the fish factory and witnessing the destructive, loser’s life of his father’s generation which will put a strong spell on his adolescent soul. Well-acted, led by the most promising young teenage-actor Atli Oscar Fjalarsson as Ari, and with the great help of the cinematographer Sophia Olsson, Runarrson creates a very honest and a spontaneous drama, focusing on the inspiring close-ups of the actors. After his debut film Teddy Bear (2012), in the title role of his second film, the director Matthiesen has discovered a very talented non-professional actor. Such is the already experienced fashion model Maria Palm, on which acting energy is based, is the film Model. Leaving her quiet life and boyfriend in the small town, she moves in Paris where, instead of the dream-coming true of fast success, she encounters the cruel life and a fight to survive in the corrupt and selfish world of the fashion industry, to which the young girls as models belong with all their naivety and honesty. How the fairytale turns into a black even tragic drama, is what is depicted clearly in Model, with the decisive role of the cinematographer Petrus Sjovik (I agree with the award, dedicated to one of the best ever world cinematographers, given to him by Sven Nykvist, Bergman’s creative partner) who, in the manner of the docu-feature, follows the face of Emma (the magically beautiful Maria Palm) and creates a modern drama that demystifies the cruel world of the fashion industry. My third favorite film in the Best Nordic Film Competition was the Swedish/Festival opening film, Yard in which the director Mans Mansson, following the autobiographical novel by Kristian Lundberg, observes the cruelty of the Swedish class society, when a celebrated writer/poet becomes a part of the social/working class bottom layer, fighting for survival in the blackmailing, perfidious system of the capitalists bosses and their machinery. The main actor Anders Mossling, in the role of the poet intellectual-turned worker, gives the crucial energy to the film, followed up with the visual power by the very talented cinematographer. One of the dominating director’s in the very important artistic profile, Ita Zbroniec-Zajt, also demonstrates his creativity in the most specific film in the Nordic Competition, the second Swedish entry Granny’s Dancing on the Table, in which the writer-director Hanna Skold, in her visual narration, combines animation and the real actors. Finally, I also agree with the choice of the main jury, to give the award for Best Nordic Film and approximately 120,000 Dollars, to the Danish historical film Land of Mine, in which Danish helmer Martin Zandvliet, reconstructs the tragic drama of the German POW, dominantly teenage boys, soldiers of the Hitler Jugend, who had to correct the dirty job of their fathers, digging out the mines at the killing fields of the Danish coast after the end of the Second World War. With outstanding performances from the entire cast and camera work by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen (another girl DoP!), Zandvliet vibrates each scene with a deeply moving energy.

Edited by Steven Yates