The Scandinavian Film Festival’s top five

This is the fourth time Palace Cinemas have brought the very welcome  Scandinavian Film Festival  to our local screens, with a diverse range of films  from Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. So by now we should know those countries do so much more than just produce dark and gripping Scandi noir dramas.

Of course the region’s most well known genre is represented again this year, but there’s plenty more too – from deadpan comedies, absorbing documentaries, lively character dramas and an impressive selection of high quality award-winning festival hits. Fortunately we’ve been lucky enough to preview some, and picked out five that should be on any cinema-lovers’ list. In no particular order – just see them all!

1. The King’s Choice

In April 1940, a neutral and hopelessly unprepared Norway was invaded by Germany. Erik Poppe’s recreation (pic above) of those incredibly tense four days is fascinating and unusual in its focus on the political machinations surrounding the role of the monarch – the elderly and infirm King Haakon (Jesper Christensen). One hopelessly futile battle is central to the drama though, and that shows Norwegian soldiers – scared teenagers mostly with outdated and insufficient weapons – being lead by people who simply didn’t know what to do. This was a huge Norwegian box office hit – and that may seem strange to those of us more used to a diet of Hollywood’s tub-thumping or our own rose-tinted Anzac nostalgia. It’s such a self-effacing and honest view of history, one rarely seen on screen. There was a nobility, and even heroism about what the King eventually decided in the face of inevitable defeat. But the behind closed doors dithering, political cowardice, fear and outright incompetence of the country’s leaders is an ugly reminder of the reality of war. The King’s Choice was Norway’s official selection for the 2017 Academy Awards, and is the festival’s Centrepiece.


2. Sami Blood

Australia’s shameful race relations past is by no means unique, but who would have guessed those enlightened Swedes had their own stolen generation and a system of institutionalised abuse? The racism shown here seems so strange to anyone outside of Northern Europe, for who can even tell the difference between the Swedes and the native Sami – derided as “filthy Lapps” and “circus animals”? Writer/director Amanda Kernell’s stirring drama, which follows the fate and fortunes of a bright 14-year-old Sami girl called Elle screened to great acclaim at the Sydney Film Festival this year, and has picked up multiple awards at Toronto, Sundance and Venice. It’s easy to see why – the story not only effortlessly rips modern liberal consciences apart, but the also features an astonishing lead performance from Lene Cecille Sparrok playing the spirited a little girl who comes to loathe her own identity. It’s a stunning and disturbing debut feature.

3. The Man

After the success of her dark Scandi TV series The Killing and The Bridge, writer-director Charlotte Sieling makes a welcome return to the big screen, and to the admirable task of poking fun at the pretentions of big-name boho artists. Simon (Borgen’s Søren Malling) is hot-shot Copenhagen gallery darling with a Jeff Koons-like income and ego to match. With huge studio in trendy downtown, a beautiful wife, glamorous mistress and plenty of attractive and adoring studio assistants to do the actual hard work of putting paint on the canvas, he’s got everything. Until his long lost son Casper (Jakob Oftebro), who he has never met, turns up on the scene as a mysterious Banksy-like street artist with an even hipper-than-thou aura than his own. The scene is set for a generational clash, one made all the more intense by Casper’s obvious designs on both the women in Simon’s life… It’s all ultra-slick, edgy and quite mad, featuring sly performances from the all-star cast, who are clearly having a huge amount of fun. Charlotte Sieling is a festival guest, and will be at Palace Norton St to introduce the film at 6.30pm Wed July 12.

4. Tom of Finland

Rainbow flag-waving always goes down well at film festivals, so its no surprise that Dome Karukoski’s handsome biopic of the legendary Finnish gay erotic artist Tom of Finland (real name Touko Laaksonen, played by Pekka Strang) promptly turned up on Palace ’s list, and is scheduled for general release in October. Many inner westies won’t want to wait, if only for the nostalgic thrill of seeing again those iconic fleshy and filthy artworks featuring muscular well endowed men in leather, once seen as so brave and provocative. Fortunately the film doesn’t waste time debating that tiresome question “art or porn” (both, without a doubt), and in fact, some may find the film visually a bit tame. Variety called it “enjoyable” and “eager to entertain,” but “vanilla” – complaining that it downplayed the story’s colourful sexual content. But maybe that’s just a sign of the times – its not the 70s any more! This may surprise some, but we do now live in a way more conservative and beige era now. Tom of Finland is one of the festival’s Special Events – details here

5. The Other Side of Hope

Yes we’ve been Trumped and we’ve been Brexit-ed, but at least we can still go to the cinema for a refreshing tonic to the state of the world, if not an actual antidote… Aki Kaurismäki has used the European refugee crisis before (Le Havre) as a backdrop for a humanistic feel-good story, all told with his characteristic bone-dry humour and more than a whisk of dark Nordic melancholy. This times we’re in Helinsinki, where Syrian worker Khaled (Sherwan Haji) has just arrived looking for asylum. He teams up with a disillusioned salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) who, for no apparent reason, has just purchased a failing restaurant – which comes with several hopeless staff. The fate of that business is the hope bit – the other side is the unfeeling bureaucracy and racism in Finland, a small monocultural nation quite stressed by the sudden arrival of 32,000 refugees in 2015. For those who want to leave politics at the door and just have a laugh, there’s plenty of that too, along with some really silly scenes, superbly designed and all populated with wry expressionless characters who say little but smoke incessantly. Yep, it’s that sort of movie…

The Other Side of Hope is the festival opener on Tuesday July 11 at Palace Norton Street, with plenty more festival screenings before it ends on Aug 2. Head to the festival website for bookings and session times.

Reviews – Russell Edwards