To travel across the old continent from a mediterranean country like Spain to the charming and cold – in strict terms of weather, not regarding human behaviour – Nordic area of Europe could be such an intense and peculiar adventure. Once you land at Göteborg, home of one of the most prominent and important film festivals of the region, celebrating its 40th anniversary, both your body and mind start to experience the cultural and environmental changes and, probably, to develope sensitivities you never imagined to have before. People look very different – everyone is taller and blonder than you. The taste of the local food and the sauces melting in your mouth activates something unexpected and almost magical in your palate. And films get inside your head through the darkness of the screening rooms thanks to that special touch that Nordic filmmakers have when portraying their stories on the big screen. A mix of clever and raw mise-en- scène, focus and special care for actors and their characters’ development and, of course, when the story requires it, astonishing cinematographies enhanced by the breathtaking natural landscapes of the territory.
Landscapes such as those used by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson in his debut feature film Heartstone (Hjartasteinn), included in the competition for Best Nordic Film at Göteborg 2017. It’s a touching and not easy to digest story, that navigates through sensitive themes like homophobia, homosexuality and sexual awakening with a steady pace, offering an unusual and delicious balance between the crudity of its content and the beauty of the rural Iceland where the movie is set. The beauty of the Lapland mountains is the background for the story of Sami Blood (Sameblod), directed by Amanda Kernell. It’s a drama from Denmark with an interesting premise that lacks rythm and a sense of progression in the narrative. The film deals with racism and identity in a bloated way, turning what could have been a magnificent first work into a particularly dense drama, saved only by Lene Cecilia Sparrok’s remarkable lead performance.
These deep, heavy dramas – probably an unintended leitmotif among the nominees for the Dragon Award – also included arguing couples framed by doors of small flats, as featured in Katja Wik’s The Ex-Wife, and the paternal- filial drama Handle With Care (Hjertestart) by Arild Andresen, shot in Norway and Colombia, with exotic but absurd results, verging on boredom. Turning away from these films, I found the longed for “Nordic special touch” in two specific titles that made my affair with Scandinavian films in Göteborg better than expected.
The Man (Mesteren), is the first feature by Charlotte Sieling since her debut in 2009 with Above the Street, Below the Water (Over gaden under vandet).
During these eight years the actress, writer and director has been improving her skills directing episodes for TV shows like Homeland, The Strain andThe Americans. The way Sieling dives into the insanity of an artist and that of his son’s, weaving a plot in which drama and the essence of thriller collide in one of the best third acts seen in the competition, makes this movie the perfect choice for every lover of Denmark’s celebrated recent film history. The second film mentioned is not other than this year’s winner of the FIPRESCI prize Tom of Finland by Dome Karukoski. This is a drama shaped as a biopic of Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland – one of the greatest and most controvercial Finnish artists, portrayed brilliantly by actor Pekka Strang. Karukoski’s work skillfuly balances the execution in technical aspects and the story development, and the jaw-dropping production design takes us through decades in an entertaining, deep and uplifting film that plays in the blockbuster league without losing the particular signature of the far and cold northern Europe.
Edited by Yael Shuv
© FIPRESCI 2017