Saturday, 6/30/2018

Nordic Social Horror

Films from Scandinavia

Breath in! Tina has to set herself free in BORDER

Wide open country, jagged coasts, and reticent detectives: this is how the countries of northern Europe often present themselves in the detective movies we see on TV. Yet Scandinavian film has much more to offer, as this year's entries at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN demonstrate. Socially critical and supernatural, genre film and classic drama: the films from up north blend familiar styles and motifs to create vivid cinematic experiences in social horror.

Gustav Möller has directed his Danish film THE GUILTY as a chamber play. The main part of the film is set in a police dispatcher's office. But as director Steven Knight did in NO TURNING BACK, showing Tom Hardy driving by himself, Möller succeeds in turning a haunting portrait of a man into a thriller that takes place almost exclusively in the mind of the viewer. Police officer Asger Holm was transferred to a desk job because of a mistake he'd made while on duty. Annoyed by his job, he takes seriously only a few of the distress calls he receives. But then a woman calls as she's being kidnapped by her husband. A race against time begins. What can Holm do with a telephone as his only weapon? This thriller plays out in real time and is full of surprises and exciting twists. Its most remarkable quality, however, is actor Jakob Cedergren (known to viewers from the crime series THE SANDHAMN MURDERS), who with every fiber of his being makes this one-man show exciting till the very end.

In the Swedish film BORDER, Danish-Iranian director Ali Abbasi integrates Nordic folklore and suspense into a love story about outsiders, thus creating a perfect image of isolation and fear of the "other". Customs officer Tina is the best person for her job, thanks to her sense of smell. A congenital condition enables her to smell everything, even the guilt or fear felt by smugglers as they try to get illegal goods across the border. At home, Tina lives isolated from society in a loveless relationship. Everything changes at once when she smells Vore, with whom she senses a connection because he seems to be like her. He doesn't try to fit in, though; he doesn't hide his animal side. Is his way of living a way for Tina to finally feel free? The decision is not that simple, since Vore's appearance inspires not only passion, but also the re-emergence of old family secrets.


Outsiders and their acceptance by others is also a theme in Jesper Ganslandt's JIMMIE. The Swedish director shows us a fictitious refugee crisis in Scandinavia. Needing to flee their country, Swedes head south, hide from police, nearly drown in the sea, and experience xenophobia. Caught up in all this is little Jimmie, whose father is taking him to freedom. The film is shot completely from the point of view of the four-year-old. The camera remains at his level, with lots of close-ups of his confused and frightened visage. By transposing the refugee crisis to another place, Ganslandt creates a new perspective on this current topic.

One man who was able to direct family dramas and off-kilter relationships like no other would have turned 100 this year: Ingmar Bergman. Not one, but two magnificent documentarists are on the trail of the magnificent Swedish filmmaker. Renowned director Margarete von Trotta gives her encounter with the director an international perspective in SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN, while in BERGMAN: A YEAR IN A LIFE, Jane Magnusson takes a domestic Swedish approach to him. Magnusson concentrates on the year 1957, on the start of Bergman's career, when he first became successful abroad. In January of that year, THE SEVENTH SEAL was showing in cinemas and WILD STRAWBERRIES was written and filmed. Bergman also directed several plays, had relationships with four different women, and was already suffering from a stomach ailment. Even back then, Bergman was a workaholic, a lover, and a despot rolled into one. Jane Magnusson gets very close to this fascinating director and sees 1957 as the year in which Bergman became a legend. FILMFEST MÜNCHEN is also showing FROM THE LIFE OF THE MARIONETTES, Bergman's German production from 1980, with a young Robert Atzorn in the leading role. Bergman made the film while working at Munich's Residenztheater, which is why the cast is comprised entirely of actors from the ensemble there.

Big, royal, cute! What do you think of when you hear these three words? A Saint Bernard, of course! In Mads Brügger's first feature film, THE SAINT BERNARD SYNDICATE, these loyal dogs are to be a sales hit in China. That's the latest idea to come from Frederik, a failed businessman who is desperately looking for sponsors for this enterprise. His old school pal Rasmus, also unsuccessful in his profession, would be perfect — they'll just forget that Frederik bullied him in their school days. Rasmus, who's just been diagnosed with ALS, goes all in for the adventure of raising Saint Bernards in China. It's inevitable that things will go awry. Caught up in a culture clash and far removed from political correctness, the two Danish comedians Frederik Cilius Jørgensen und Rasmus Bruun bumble wonderfully through the city of Chongqing. Beyond the many moments in which this odd couple will make you grin, the film is really defined by a friendship, a dying man's will to live, and, of course, a dog!


Veijo, the main character in Teemu Nikki's Finnish film EUTHANIZER, also loves animals. That's rather unusual for someone who euthanizes them. To Viejo, it's important that the animals die with dignity and without suffering. His business is going well, but this dark comedy takes a turn when Veijo observes a man mistreating his dog. Maybe it just happens to be time for the euthanizer to do something about the pet owners instead of their beloved pets... Finnish star Matti Onnismaa carries the film; he is convincing both as an aging ruffian and in the quiet moments spent with his deathly ill father and his father's nurse, Lotta.

What would happen if all the people in a village struck it rich at the same time? Would decadence rule, or stagnation — and boredom? In LAKE OVER FIRE, it's boredom that's overcome a small Norwegian town. Everyone stops working and enjoys a life of luxury when gemstones are found in the local mine. Then a stranger arrives in the village and starts pitting the residents against each other. Director Joern Utkilen brings the Wild West to a land up north, turning horses into mopeds and heroes into scatterbrained nouveaux riches. Crazy but clumsy is the way rivals show up to a shootout wearing huge cowboy hats — they have to fit over their motorcycle helmets, after all. In this film, small-town thinking and middle-class mentalities are given a satirical take.

Gabriela Pichler, by contrast, sees something positive in small-town life. Her second film, AMATEURS, is set in Lafors, a fictitious small town in Sweden that is facing its economic demise. Only a German discount supermarket chain can bring new life to the community. In order to convince the chain that their town is the right one to locate in, the residents set about making a promotional video about Lafors. Migrants, immigrants, lower class, upper class: everyone works together to save their small town. You can read more about this in our interview with the director.

Q&A on Scandinavian films: Danish export hit: Mads Brügger