Riding the waves of fashion, national cinemas ebb and flow with the tide at international film festivals. Over the last few years Asia — a continent, not just a country — has been holding the flag of the new avant-garde. Propelled by the snobbish critics’ brigade, the works of Tsai Ming-liang, Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wok, Hideo Nakata and Johnny To (to mention just a few of the best known names) along with those of authors who have never enjoyed a real global popularity, have now brought to bear considerable weight as part of film collections, film retrospectives and on the shelves of specialized video clubs. Reinforced by the world-wide box-office successes of the j-terror boom (Japanese horror films), Asia triumphs as the newest and the toughest innovation factory and the champion of the latest cri-de-guerre for making movies that are vehicles for challenging, non-conformist art.
For almost a decade now, the invasion of Oriental cinematographic powers (China, Japan, Malasia, Thailand, Vietnam, and, particularly, North Korea) has been overwhelming. Today, at the risk of making an unwittingly hasty prognosis, we may say that, according to the selection of the 32 Montreal World Film Festival, the latest cinematic invasion might already have been launched by the descendants of a powerful race that sailed the seas before and better than anybody else: the Vikings. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway would have made their ancestors proud with the surprise gifts they brought to Montréal for the official competition and for the other programs. Their films stood out on the backdrop of the multinational works (which was hardly surprising), gathered for the competition, whose goal — as we could prove incontestably — was to be the Mecca of cinematographic diversity on the American continent.
The titles in question are as follows: the rural drama The Wolf (Le loup) with Peter Stormare, directed by Daniel Alfredson; the dysfunctional comedy The King of Ping Pong (Ping Pongkingen) by Jenis Jonsson; The Kautokeino Rebellion (Kautokeino-Opproret) by Nils Gaup, whose legendary adventure Pathfinder, the Guide of the Past (1987) made its VHS debut in Argentina at the end of the 80’s; the hauntingly atonal existential melodrama Man from No Place ((N)iemand) by Patrice Toye; the sombrely claustrophobic vicissitude of young inmates in The Home of the Dark Butterflies (Tummien perhosten koti) by Dome Karukoski.
Fighter by Natasha Arthy, a feminine version of Rocky, more or less, is a film about a girl of Turkish descent whose adamantly traditional family opposes her penchant for martial arts; Separate Worlds (To Werdener) by Niels Arden Ople is about a Jehova’s Witness teenager who falls in love with a boy who is not, thus triggering a family crisis; Back Soon by Solveig Anspach tells about a divorced mother who sells marihuana to survive; One Shoot by Linda Wendel is about a punk girl, who rebels against her hippy mother (the film’s title reflects the fact that it is the first Danish film ever to be made in only one take with no cutting or editing); and finally, the appallingly shocking Leo, a police drama as raw as a knife wound about a man obsessed with avenging the violent death of his girl friend at the hands of muggers.
None of these titles will revolutionize contemporary cinema. And this makes them less demanding for prices or recognition. Yet, each of them brings its own appeal to the commendable variety of audio-visual choices, amounting in their entirety to something like a panorama of the best in the new Scandinavian cinema and, in nearly all cases, offering powerful samples of cinéma d’auteur. Not lacking in experimentation, sketchy narratives widely acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, the films might be considered somewhat conventional but always with an impeccable technical and artistic finish.
A long way now from Dogma 95, that so called movement patented by Lars von Trier — which turned out to be as staggering as a gun shot but as fleeting as the life of a butterfly — the new promises from Scandinavia are not stiffened by names of international acclaim (at least not yet) and put their money on sotto voce surprises, divested of all pretensions of transcendence, unlabeled and hopeful, unorthodox and almost infallible.