This year the Tribeca Film Festival provided the city a lift in what are now times of a dire economic crisis. Among the 86 selected features at this festival were five Scandinavian narrative films. Film expert Niclas Goldberg took a closer look at those.
Last year the Swedish film, "Let the Right One In" by Tomas Alfredson, won the prestigious top prize at Tribeca Film Festival. The film, which centered on a relationship between two 12-year-olds, was the first narrative festival winner to go on and become a worldwide hit. Most people agree that "Let The Right One In" was one of the best in 2008. The film ran for six months in New York City theaters.
The buzz was therefore extra high for Scandinavian films at this year’s festival and there were indeed several treats, many of which offered refreshing humor with edgy, male protagonists looking for a change.
The Danish-Swedish creation "Original," a sharp off-beat comedy, stands out as most innovative. "The Swimsuit Issue," the Swedish crowd pleaser, has laugh-out-loud potential, and "Newsmakers," a Swedish-Russian action film, is done in a Hollywoodesque style with a dash of machismo. "Fear Me Not," a Danish hair-raising psychological thriller in the Hitchcock tradition, is a piece of brilliance that keeps you on your edge of the seat. And this year, one of the top prizes did go to a Nordic country: Norway nabbed it with the beautiful road trip comedy/drama "North," with its pitch perfect dry humor, makes a lasting impression.
In "North," the well-crafted and solid Norwegian debut by Rune Denstad Langlo, we find a seeking yet endearing outsider. The chubby lead, Jomar (amazingly acted by Anders Baasmo Christiansen), a lonesome employee of a ski park, sets out on a journey to find his son up north, drinking loads of booze and meeting new friends along the way, and all the while reflections on life and death are unavoidable. The beautiful snow-covered landscape plays a leading role and the wry humor will arouse even the most disheartened. "North" mesmerized the jury and the Norwegian director received the prize for best new narrative filmmaker.
Scandinavian humor is often identified as ironic with an intelligent edge, and "Original" is true to these roots. A Swede, Antonio Tublén, and a Dane, Alexander Brøndsted, collaborated on this their debut feature with an imaginative twist and unexpected characters. In the quick, humorous and well-directed scenes, you’ll find existential wonderings. Henry (Sverrir Gudnason), a young man, goes from an ordinary existence to making the life-changing decision to move to Spain and open a restaurant. He is tired of being the bleak version of what he could have been. A beautiful feminist (an enchanting Tuva Novotny) becomes the object of desire. Things turn out to be more and more bizarre as reality and dreams merge. Danish leading lady Ghita Nørby, plays Henry’s mentally unstable mother in this colorful find.
Like the first two films, the Swedish feel-fine-at-the-moment comedy, "The Swimsuit Issue," deals mainly with a male character coming to terms with himself. From established director Måns Herngren, the film centers on Fredrik, a loser played by funny guy Jonas Inde. But here the director works more with group dynamic (in The Full Monty tradition) as masculine fear of conflicts and reverse sexism are served at the table. This is a lighthearted tale about eight middle-aged men who start a synchronized swim team. The Swedish rock band, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, gives vibrant life to the film.
With much less humor, "Newsmakers" is an action film, which shows its muscularity in digital effects and hardboiled crooks chased by hardboiled cops. Set in a gray Moscow and played by Russian actors, except for Swede Loa Falkman, this Swedish/Russian production is a remake of the Hong Kong-made "Breaking News" and gives new perspectives of reality shows. The Swedish director Anders Banke made his breakthrough in 2006 with the vampire film “Frostbite” and uses stylish attention-grabbers as the film explodes more than once.
Alfred Hitchcock clearly inspired the Danish director Kristian Levring, one of the founders of the Dogma principle. In "Fear Me Not", Michael (the brightly restrained Ulrich Thomsen) is a troubled middle-aged family man who quits his job and signs up for the trial of a new anti-depressant. Although the trials are abandoned due to a serious side effect, Michael refuses to relinquish his newfound sense of peace. As he continues the experiment on his own, the transformation produces chilling consequences. The film’s intensity, as we hear the disturbing decay of Michael’s mind through a voice over, slowly comes to a climax that is deliciously settled. "Fear Me Not" is a cinematic pearl.
Scandinavian film, with its newfound prominence, is catching the attention of critics and audiences alike. With the success of last year’s winner and these exciting new films, a bold new wave of Nordic films has been revealed.