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Entries in Scandinavia (61)


Pilou Asbaek Goes To "A War" 

Memorize this face as you'll be seeing a lot of it.

This is Pilou Asbaek, who appears to be the love child of Michael Shannon and Leonardo DiCaprio, but whose acting is surprisingly subtle given that visual prompt. Now picture him shaggier and with a sword as he'll be joining Game of Thrones for Season 6 to play Euron Greyjoy. GoT has become to Scandinavian and Northern European stars what Law & Order once was to NYC stage actors or Harry Potter was to older British thespians; the place they all end up in some capacity large or small! You'll also soon see him as Pontious Pilate in the Ben-Hur remake and then reunited with Scarlett Johansson (he played her cowboy hat wearing boyfriend in the first scenes of Lucy) for Ghost in the Shell  a couple of years from now. In other words, he's suddenly in demand.

But for now he's just a respected Danish actor (a TV star at home, and best known abroad for A Hijacking as well as a brief stint on The Borgias)  making the rounds with his country's Oscar submission A War. It's a real contender for the finalist list and then possibly the big deal Oscar nomination. Asbaek plays a Company Commander in Afghanistan who comes under hot water back home for a questionable decision he makes to save his men while they're under heavy gunfire from the Taliban. Though there are a couple of violent scenes, A War is quieter than its title suggests and more concerned with ethical and psychological fallout from going to war. And its legal consequences, too, as the movie is partially a courtroom drama

At a cocktail reception following the film I was surprised to hear from Pilou that most of the soldiers he shared scenes with were actual soldiers rather than professional actors. I wondered if he felt like a mentor, teaching them how to act with the camera and he humbly suggested that the opposite was true. He couldn't make one false move as an actor since it would read inauthentically while in the company of actual soldiers who were just doing their jobs.

Pilou and his director Tobias Lindholm both referred to the war in Afghanistan as "our Vietnam" in conversation. They drew the comparison because the Danish people never quite understood what they were doing in Afghanistan in the first place -- it's the only war they've ever fought that did not touch their borders. (In the early Aughts, Denmark apparently had a more conservative leader than usual who jumped in with Bush & Blair). A War is vaguely reminiscent of Susanne Bier's great film Brødre (2004, remade in the US as Brothers in 2009), though that one centered on PTSD. Given that the films are more than 10 years apart it's obviously a war that the Danish people are still struggling to make peace with.


Art IS Commerce

You like it? Ingmar Bergman will buy it for you. (Well, if it's under about $25. ) Behold the new Swedish 200 kr. starring one of the greatest auteurs of all time. 



TIFF Review Index

Let this serve as the official TIFF Review reference guide since the festival closed up shop Sunday night after the Free screening of the People's Choice winner Room. We hope you enjoyed reading along with our reviews. Amir and I saw about 50 movies between us but we'll have to wrap up now as NYFF screenings have already started and Oscar charts MUST be updated and so on.

Fall Film Season is finally upon us!

3 of my favorites of the 29 I saw...

37 Films Reviewed
45 Years British marital drama (Nathaniel)
3000 Nights Palestinian prison drama (Amir)
Anomalisa Existential stop-motion dramedy (Nathaniel)
Arabian Nights: Vol 2 Portugueuse art film with politicial satire vignettes (Nathaniel)
As I Open My Eyes Tunisian music drama (Nathaniel)
Baba Joon Israel's immigrant family drama & Oscar submission (Amir)
Bang Gang French teen sex drama (Nathaniel)
The Clan Argentine true crime drama (Nathaniel)
Closet Monster Canadian LGBT drama (Nathaniel)
Dégradé Palestinian hair salon set female drama (Amir)
Demolition Canadian grief dramedy (Nathaniel)
Desde Allá Venezuelan LGBT Drama & Venice winner (Amir)
Dheepan French Immigrant drama, Palme d'or winner (Amir)
The Dressmaker Australian revenge dramedy (Glenn)
Embrace of the Serpent Black & White Colombian Amazon journey (Nathaniel)
Eva Doesn't Sleep experimental Argentine corpse drama (Nathaniel)
The Family Fang US Dramedy about a performance art family (Nathaniel)
Girls Lost Swedish LGBT Teen Drama (Nathaniel)
Granny's Dancing on the Table Swedish animated/live-action hybrid (Nathaniel)
The Here After Swedish School Drama (Nathaniel)  
Homesick Norwegian incest drama (Nathaniel)
I Saw The Light US musical biopic (Nathaniel)
Invisible Filipino immigrant drama (Nathaniel)
Love French 3D sex drama (Nathaniel)
Much Loved Moroccan docudrama on sex workers in Marrakech (Amir)
Mustang Turkish coming of age drama (Amir)
Phantom Boy French animated adventure (Nathaniel)
Room US family/crime drama, and People's Choice Winner (Nathaniel)
Spotlight, US journalist drama (Nathaniel)
Stonewall US gay history drama (Nathaniel)
Taxi Jafar Panahi's comedy & Berlinale Winner (Amir)
Truth US TV news political drama (Nathaniel) 
Victoria German continuous shot crime drama (Nathaniel)
The Wave Norwegian disaster epic (Nathaniel)
The Witch this year's Sundance horror sensation (Nathaniel)
Youth Showbiz drama (Nathaniel) 

upside down, VICTORIA turned me, inside out. and round and round

Other TIFF Articles
Best Actress Contenders (Nathaniel)
Red Carpet Opening Weekend (Jose)
Red Carpet Post-Venice (Jose)
Victoria's Single Take / Birdman Comparison (Sebastian)
People's Choice and Other Awards (Nathaniel)
Women He's Undressed - The Interview (Jose) 
IndieWire Critics Poll (Nathaniel) 

TIFF Juries of One
I polled the podcasters who stayed the whole fest. Here's what they said...

  Nathaniel R Joe Reid Nick Davis
Film Room Son of Saul Arabian Nights
Director Cirro Guerra, Embrace of Serpent Ridley Scott,
The Martian
Laszlo Nemes,
Son of Saul
Actress Charlotte Rampling,
45 Years
Cate Blanchett,
Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Dheepan
Actor Jacob Tremblay,
Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation Frederick Lau,
Supp. Actress Kate Dickie,
The Witch
Julianne Moore, Maggie's Plan Ghalia Benali, As I Open My Eyes
Supp. Actor Stanley Tucci,
Scoot McNairy, Our Brand is Crisis Abdella Didane,
Much Loved
Craft Contribution Sound,
Son of Saul
The Assassin
  Cinematography, Embrace of Serpent Art Direction,
Son of Saul
 The Danish Girl
Camera Operator, Victoria

TIFF: Two More Foreign Language Oscar Submissions

2015's TIFF has concluded and we tried to catch a few of the Foreign Language Oscar submissions while we were there. We've already written about Colombia's Embrace of the Serpent so here are two more official entries from Norway and Portugal

Oscar Trivia Notes: Portugal holds the sad statistic of being the country with the most annual submissions (32 in total) to have never been nominated. This category was established as an annual competitive event back in 1956 and Portugal began submitting in 1980 - they've missed only a few years of the competition since. Norway has fared better. Though Israel, Mexico, and Belgium, lead this particular statistic, Norway is stuck in a tie for fourth place with Greece for "the most nominated country that has yet to win the foreign film Oscar." Norway has been nominated five times. More fun stats here. I'd suggest that The Wave didn't have a prayer of being nominated except that the last time Oscar went for a Norwegian film it was a similarly conventional mainstream adventure (Kon-Tiki) so who knows.

The Wave (Norway, Roar Uthaug)
The best thing one can and should say about this disaster epic from Norway is that it's just as good as your average American entry in this crowded genre and it does that with a significantly lower budget while sticking closer to plausible science in its action sequences. It keeps things more intimate, keeping a tight focus on one family and a group of coworkers, and building slowly to the money shot disaster. The tsunami doesn't happen until well into the running time but The Wave keeps you interested regardless.  It's no surprise that Norway submitted it since it is a massive blockbuster there. According to the director's intro at the public screening over half a million people at home had already bought tickets to it in less than a month. (Can you imagine 10% of the US population going to any single movie in a month's time frame? It just doesn't happen. I think American Sniper could argue it got there but not in one month's time!) Still The Wave has the same ugly problem of valuing one blond family's welfare over everyone else's entire existence that got The Impossible into trouble with critics. Although The Wave has a better excuse for its total whiteness since it's Norway (which is very white) not Thailand! But The Wave is even more ruthless about placing the sanctity of this one family's unity and love and survival above anyone else, though I shan't spoil why that is. Nevertheless the movie is exciting to watch, the three principal actors are charming (including Ane Dahl Torp who also starred in Norway's submission last year 1001 Grams) and Norwegian movies can always be counted on for sublime scenery -- even when that scenery turns malevolent -- but boy is this thing cliche-ridden and predictable! B-

Arabian Nights Volume 2: The Desolate One (Portugal, Miguel Gomes)
I attended the middle feature of this trilogy, the one that was Oscar submitted because the director claims you needn't see the three films in order, with Nick and Amir as my final film of TIFF. They both emerged from the screenings with missionary zeal about its brilliance. Nick considers the trilogy the movie event of the year. I'm not as gaga for it though I admit that part of that may well be that I a) didn't get it and b) I have a well known lack of tolerance for artists that can't self-edit and long running times and a 7 hour three part movie in which every sequence (that I've seen) has dead space pushes these buttons for me in a big way. I'll let Amir review the trilogy proper since he's a true fan but I will say despite my reservations on the length of the project as a whole and even this third of it (which is itself over 2 hours long) it is often quite funny and provocative in its pile-up of politics, storytelling idiosyncracies, and nonsensical events (as an example of the latter at one point a character turns invisible and seems to teleport with a muscle flexing grunt and this has nothing at all to do with the story or the scene or the narration or the political content as far as I can gather) 

Dixie is a born starMiguel Gomes, who previous directed the whatsit Tabu (that critics were also besotted with), is in his own way as weird and singular an auteur as Thailand's Apichatpong Weerathasakul. His movies could not be accidentally mistaken for anyone else's and that, should you be in doubt, is a huge compliment. This trilogy is NOT an adaptation of the classic Arabian Nights but just borrows its structure with this version of Scheherazade telling us fables about poverty, politics, and social justice that are drawn from / comment on the Austerity period in Portugal that impoverished many of its citizens.

To make this trilogy project even more confusing, each volume has multiple stories within it. Volume 2 has three plus separate stories: the first is about "a man without bowels" who is being hunted by the police; the second, my preference, is about a Judge trying a case in what looks like an ancient greek theater which becomes more and more absurd and abstract and continually finds new people to blame as it progresses; the last is the story of an raggedy poodle named "Dixie" and her rotating people who have to keep giving her up. Dixie is a total cutie and won "the Palme Dog" at Cannes.

To make this volume even more confusing, the story of Dixie has several nested stories within it about the residents of a particular apartment building which have nothing at all to do with Dixie though other pets come into play (Gomes movies seem fascinated by animals be they dogs, alligators, parrots, cats, or whatnot). Describing the abundant oddity is nearly impossible: people turn invisible, cows speak at trials, naked ladies bake cakes. Real Oscar Bait, people! WTF

Related: There are now 61 official submission titles so make sure to check out the updated foreign film charts.

• Current Predictions plus all time stats/trivia
• Afghanistan through Estonia  15 official 
• Ethiopia through The Netherlands 25 official
• Norway through Vietnam 21 official 

The full official submission list will be published around October 1st with probably about 10 more titles joining this current lineup. Generally speaking at least one of the previously announced titles mysteriously vanishes or is replaced when the official list is published. 


TIFF Actress-To-Watch: Ine Marie Wilmann in "Homesick"

Great moments in production design: In the first shot of Homesick, our heroine -- and I use the term ironically since she’s no role model -- is seen with her head cupped in her hands and thrown back to stretch / express annoyance. Beside her, out of focus in the psychiatrists office is a statue in roughly the same pose. There are other little touches like this that suggest that Charlotte ( Ine Marie Wilmann) is something of a mimic... and that director Anne Sewitsky (of Happy Happy fame) are really feeling this project. 

When Charlotte returns to proper posture we see an actress that looks suspiciously like Kate Hudson... or is it Malin Akermann? No, wait early Drew Barrymore? In a very happy stroke of casting luck, these unsought comparisons add extra resonance to the very thing the movie is going for. Charlotte, you see, really wants to be someone else... or at leave have their lives. Her parents paid her little attention and she's never even met her half brother. She's terribly lonely and latches on to everyone around her. This is most obvious in a beautifully dramatized friendship with a co-worker, that verges on symbiotic in a playful and tactile dance between them in the dance studio where they work.

But the crux of the drama of the picture is that Charlotte and her half brother do meet and go almost straight to the taboo rutting. Emotional calamities multiply all around them, as one would expect. 

Homesick feels a bit slight and sketchy despite its provocations, but Wilmann is terrific in the leading role. Her face is fluid with emotion, but more importantly it's as if she's continually scrolling and searching for the right one to express. She lets other people decide for her all too often. Hence her terrible decision making. B

Delicious Related News:

Wilmann won the Norwegian Best Actress Oscar (The Amanda) for her role in Homesick. And though the film itself was passed over as Norway's official Oscar submission this year, Wilmann has an even better reward coming: she'll reunite with her current director to play the legendary Norwegian gold medalist figure skater turned Hollywood novelty actress Sonja Henje who became one of the richest women in the world by the 1940s. Wilmann has already logged a lot of time at the ice rink in preparation. Naturally the movie will include other Old Hollywood characters and an international cast. It sounds like a superb idea for a motion picture so best of luck to all. 


TIFF: Bullied Girls and Violent Boys in Sweden

TIFF is such a large beast of a film festival — hundreds of films, dozens of big screens — that everyone can make their own festival within it. Thus it is that I, Nathaniel, of Danish descent (way back) and rudimentary Norwegian language skills (from also way back but at least in my lifetime), invariably program my own Scandinavian mini-fest each year while I'm here. This year I'm seeing five Nordic films so here are quick takes on the three Swedish entries, which all happen to be about teenagers. And since we were just discussing great High School Films, the perfect topic for September, let's continue that thread...

The Hater and the Hated (well, he *did* kill someone)

Report Card: In this super tense drama, John (Ulrick Munther), a convicted murderer, returns home and goes right back to high school with his former classmates -- who are also the former classmates of his victim. The students and even his own family are not super jazzed about his return. This directorial feature debut from writer/director Magnus Von Horn is sensitively shot and tough-minded but its best assett is its slow burn patience (without testing the audience's). It builds and builds towards its inevitable bummer conclusion while trying to get inside the impenetrable head of its young protagonist. It doesn't really stick the landing because... well, what is actually the point of all this depressing shit? Still, the 32 year-old director's work is confident enough that I'd line right up to see a second feature. B

Extra Credit: That double meaning title is smart since all of what's "here" for the town and its characters is entirely predicated on the death that came before. 

Would you want to go to school here? On the bright side it's very liberal -- even former murderers are welcome because  "everyone is entitled to an education". There's no dress code and the lockers are in cute island format. On the other hand it's hickville central, the boys are violent, the girls are bored, and they let former murderers go here. The well meaning but nervous principal/teachers are absolutely flummoxed about how to handle this PTSD pressure cooker that was once a normal school. Can you blame them? 

Report Card: In this drama with supernatural touches, three much bullied teenage besties form a coven of sorts (without calling it that) and end up raising a strange and unusual plant (think Audrey II without the songs or sentience --actually never mind) that transforms their lives. When they drink from the plant's beans these outcast girls are suddenly transformed into boys. The first transformation is the movie's clear highlight but alas, this tale gets bogged in unsteady characterizations and the difficulty of balancing four different topics/causes: trans awareness character arc, closeted gay love, gender inequities, school bullying. Strong on concept but very unsteady in the execution. B-/C+

Extra Credit: You will absolutely marvel at the casting. Somehow they found teenage boys that look exactly like the female leads if they happened to suddenly be transformed into boys. And all six of them are likeable actors. It's the best "same person. different sex" casting of all time after Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton in Orlando

Would you want to go to school here? Well their well funded high school has great grounds and is big enough that even if you're unpopular you can have your little tight knit circle to hang with. But the bullying shit is out of control, and and the gym teacher actively sucks, basically telling the girls to grow a pair when they're distressed at the escalating torments.

Report Card: This strange film is a bifurcated affair. One half is an hypnotic stop-motion family history (or tall tales) of twin sister refugees who took much different paths in the world, one becoming a caregiver shut out, the other a wild bohemian prostitute. The other half is the modern story of their shared young granddaughter raised in total reclusiveness by her religious father who is also a shut in. The strawberry blonde is so catatonic and pale she makes Sissy Spacek's oddball young 70s waifs seem positively extroverted and suntanned. She barely seems to exist outside of her head (i.e. the animated portion). The problem here is the balance since one half is entrancing and the other is painfully repetitive and obsessed with its own hopelessness. Animated half: B+ The Other half: C-

Extra Credit: I have a great friend who always audibly groans when the title of a movie gets worked in to the dialogue (I personally love it, though, in part from the reaction it provokes in him). Anxiously awaited the moment, did I. But the awesome title only shows up in visual form during the end credits. Worth the wait.

Would you want to go to school here: Insert that Mean Girls joke about home-schooled religious nutjobs. So, emphatically NO. Plus the teacher is your father and his idea of detention and lunch plan are shudder-worthy cruel.



Tim's Toons: Norway (and TFE) salutes Torill Kove

Tim here. It's a good time  to be Torill Kove: the Norwegian-born animator/director, who has spent virtually her entire career working in Canada, received the Anders Jahre Prize in Oslo today (or yesterday, if you want to be strict about time zones). This award is given to artists at home and abroad who have enriched the cultural life of Norway, and while most of Kove's work has been funded by the invaluable National Film Board of Canada, there's no denying the national pride of her delicate, highly personal fables of life in Norway.

The easiest proof of Kove's prominence is to note that all three of the short films she has directed in her career were nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar, and one won. Since the NFB, in its generosity and wisdom, has made two of those available online, there could be no better opportunity or excuse to wander through the imagination of one of contemporary animation's most vivid creators. [More...]

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