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Entries in Scandinavia (44)

Friday
Oct242014

Scandinavians in London: New Films From Those 'Royal Affair' Lovers

A couple more reports from London and Chicago festivals heading your way. Here's David on three new films starring either Alicia Vikander or Mads Mikkelsen, who formerly sizzled together in Denmark's recent Oscar nominee "A Royal Affair" - Editor

Alicia Vikander

That Testament of Youth was made the Centrepiece Gala at the festival seems, sight unseen, predictable: supported by the Mayor of London, the Gala slot is one of the few that really demonstrates the festival's support of homegrown cinema, and the story told here is as British as you can get. 2014 marks the centenary of World War I, and with it comes this adaptation of Vera Brittain's iconic memoir. James Kent's film keeps his focus to the period of the war itself, beginning at its end; Vera (Alicia Vikander) looks oddly distraught amidst the celebrating crowds packing London's streets. Testament of Youth is a compassionate reminder of the emotional and physical toll of war on a whole nation - which is what Brittain's memoir proved too, in 1933, not long before the second, more devastating war hit.

Kit Harington and VikanderWhile the film is impeccably upholstered, with Consolata Boyle's costumes and Robert Hardy's photography particularly impeccable, it's the character work that makes Testament of Youth such an involving experience, especially through the veil of a 'period' film. Vikander is quite simply luminous, but the camera is drawn as much to the stubborn, robust manner she gives Brittain as much as it is the softer romanticism of the character's winsome independence. The film is decorated with familiar faces giving sturdy turns along the way: Miranda Richardson, Dominic West, Emily Watson and Hayley Atwell all have their striking moments.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep112014

TIFF Quickies: 1001 Grams, Sand Dollars, Labyrinth of Lies

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day whichever.

Three more quick takes on Norway's Oscar submission, a LGBT romance of sorts in the Dominican Republic and a surprisingly intense film from Germany that I hadn't heard of before arriving.

Bent Hamer directs Ane Dahl Trop in the Norwegian Oscar submission "1001 Grams"

1001 GRAMS
How much does a soul weigh? I don’t mean to bring up painful memories of 21 Grams, but everything in 1001 Grams must be effortfully measured. Lab technician Marie is just such a meticulous woman, in charge of the official Norwegian kilo, which is to be weighed and calibrated in Paris at an annual seminar to ensure that all countries kilos are the same or else: chaos! Though the oddity of this international standards milieu suggests a comedy, what we get is stonefaced drama... or possibly comedy so dry, I needed a humidifier in the room to get it. Bent Hamer, who directed two previous Norwegian Oscar submisssions O'Horten and Kitchen Stories (neither won nominations), so precisely calibrates this new film that every image feels carefully storyboarded. There's a gorgeous balance of stark blues and bright whites and he often abandons our lonely protagonist in silhouette in dark sparsely furnished apartments. Even Marie’s car, an cute electric thing, fits the color schemes. When Marie and her colleagues take smoke breaks at work the images are so strictly shot that the actors seem like mice stopped for a moment to think (?) in a narrow stretch of  bureaucratic maze. Marie is so controlled that she can’t even express her grief when her father dies, and the actress Ane Dahl Torp, doing fine if limited work by the nature of the role, has to squeeze all Marie's hurt into tiny hollow syllables like “takk” (thank you) when people wonder how she’s doing. It’s a solid movie but unfortunately its strength, that crafted precision, is also its weakness. There’s so much time spent establishing how regimented, monotonous and empty Marie’s life is that the film turns into a dull laborious watch. Things eventually begin to change for Marie when she meets a bird-loving Frenchmen at a business seminar but the actual drama is so backloaded that it's tough to make it to the final stretch. Slightly touching in an unusually low key way, but it’s a complete mystery as to why Norway chose it as their Oscar submission over the daring and hypnotic Blind (Sundance review) which was also in the running. C+

Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin star in "Sand Dollars"

SAND DOLLARS
Wealthy septuagenarian Frenchwoman Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) is wiling away her twilight years on a private beach of the Dominican Republic. There’s little to tether her to France, her only child being estranged, and she’s fallen in love with a young local girl named Noeli (Yanet Mojica) though she knows almost nothing about her. Money is often exchanged though Noeli is neither, strictly speaking, a prostitute nor a kept girl. This intimate and relatively stable relationship (two years and counting) begins to crack when Anne wants to take Noeli back to Paris with her permanently. Sand Dollars hits its encomic colonialism, class disparity, and exploitation notes relatively indelicately  -- there's no mistaking the themes -- but the odd connections between its characters are, in contrast, delicately observed. Noeli's true feelings are hard to read, but she is both an attentive lover and shameless about requests for money. Little details begin to accumulate like the way Anne's mascara clumps always look like she's crying even when she's happy, how Noeli dances both for self pleasure and with awareness of the practical value of her body, the way that even when Noeli's boyfriend  looks away he's weighing the presence of "the old lady". The film gets under your skin especially with the complications of actual affection where only a business transaction would be easier for everyone. A minor film but sensitively delivered and blissfully short (80 minutes) in keeping with its slim story. B/B-

LABYRINTH OF LIES
For the first reel or two of this postwar German drama, I wondered why they’d cast such a handsome but blank lead actor (Alexander Fehling) as the protagonist Johann Radmann. Radmann is an ambitious young lawyer who, somewhat on a whim, takes an interest in unpunished war crimes and former Nazis teaching school children that a local activist reporter has clued him in to. But the initial empty suit impression is a false one. At a party early in the film the reporter tells his bohemian friends that they have to encourage Radmann until his flicker of humanity turns to a raging fire. It’s meant as a ‘loosen up’ joke, and very smartly delivered as an offhand remark rather than foreshadowing. But this is exactly what happens in this impressive debut feature from Giulio Ricciarelli. Fehling's performances, very well modulated, grows more and more intense as the new case shifts from curiousity to a detective-like fascination and then full blown righteous vendetta with Fehling's blown out eyes and angrier voice dramatizing that he hasn't slept in weeks, and that his daydreams are all nightmares. The story is fascinating, detailing the widespread ignorance about The Holocaust in Germany just one generation after the war. Auschwitz, for example, the chief subject of the investigation, is a place most young Germans the lawyers talks to have never heard of. Labyrinth of Lies is glossily made (perhaps too glossy?), well acted, and moving with a constant throughline of the need for survivors to tell their stories and for people to understand their own country's history and face their own demons.

Germany was the first country to ever try its own soldiers for war crimes and if there is a significant mark against the film it's that this is, frankly, an impossible story to squeeze into a 122 minutes motion picture. It's implications are so vast and though the movie has many fine scenes and is appropriately sober about the psychic turmoil of survivors and the need to understand your nation's own character and face your own personal demons, it also wants to be a detective story and a romance. Labyrinth is sometimes so swift that some of the developlments and results feel convenient rather than desperately produced or are brushed off so quickly that they matter less in retrospect. I rarely ask for movies to be longer but this one could have used Zodiac's willingness to chase loose ends and run on for at least another half hour or so. B/B+ 

Alexander Fehling loses himself in horrific documentation of World War II

Also at TIFF
A Little Chaos
The New Girlfriend
Wild
The Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party and Behavior
The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game
Foxcatcher and Song of the Sea
The Last Five Years
Wild Tales and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl and Out of Nature
Mommy
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Charlie's Country

Sunday
Sep072014

TIFF Scandinavian Quickies: Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of Nature

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day 2...

Part of Day 3's adventure was losing the internet and not being able to recover an entire review I'd written. With time so short that feels more disastrous than it actually is. But since Day 2 was just great from start to finish we won't let Day 3's mistakes -- I also fell asleep unintentionially for 2 hours -- distract us from the goal: sharing it with you.

Life in a Fishbowl (Iceland)
I am told on Twitter that "Life in a Fishbowl" is a terrible English market title and that the title of the film in Icelandic is actually Hope Street. Unless that's a the adress of a nearly empty home which preoccupies two of the three leads, that title is even more perplexing since these characters are quite unhappy. "Life in a Fishbowl" is the name of a novel within the film (as I recall... though perhaps that was just a subtitle flourish?). It's a multi-strand narrative wherein the characters are all connected in some way. If this fills you with as much terror as it does me, rest assured that the movie doesn't strain for "twists" or "ooh, that's how they connect!" moments of faux profundity but just tells it's three stories which eventually intertwine. We meet a handsome athlete turned banker who is being showered with gifts from his new company. (We know that these gifts will come with a hefty price even if he doesn't since he is a movie character and we have seen lots of movies.) We also follow a local celebrity poet stumbling drunk around the city who has just finished his first novel in many years but who is perpetually drowning, figuratively speaking, and not just in drink. Finally there's a struggling single mother who earns her extra cash as a prostitute.

There's nothing particularly new or grandly ambitious here which makes the film's rather rapturous blurbs from home "best icelandic film ever" puzzling. Still, it's quite engrossing with a novelistic feel and amounts to a big leap forward for the director Baldwin Z (Jitters). [This film is Iceland's Oscar submission and though it's good, it's not half as distinctive as their great submission last year, Of Horses and Men.] B/B+

A great Oscar threat and a fine manly ass after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep022014

Iceland, Norway, and Foreign Chart Updates

We travel now overseas to two of my all-time favorite places on Earth. I lived in Norway many years ago (and went back for the first time just last summer for my birthday). And Iceland is just about my favorite vacation spot  these days. Well, okay, I've only been there twice but I'm eager for a third. It's so otherworldly beautiful. If you saw Land Ho! this summer (reviewed), that sweet comedy is basically one long commercial for booking a flight to Reykjavik, post-haste.

NORWAY
The land of the midnight sun has chosen three finalists for consideration for Oscar submission and I write this prematurely since they'll name their official pick tomorrow. I'll be travelling to Toronto so you might hear before I do. The race is between these three films: Bent Hamer's 1001 Grams, which premieres in Toronto, a romantic drama about a female scientist who travels to Paris and falls for a Frenchmen; Hisham Zaman's Letter to the King an immigrant drama about five refugees who travel to Oslo; and finally Eskil Vogt's Blind, about a blind woman with a potent imagination and a troubled marriage. I loved this film at Sundance so I hope they pick it. Vogt is the co-screenwriter of Joachim Trier's beautiful and highly acclaimed movies Reprise and Oslo August 31st. This is Vogt's first time in the director's chair and it turns out he's got quite an eye as well as a tongue.

ICELAND
They've narrowed it down to four films: Paris of the North, Life in a Fishbowl (which is playing in Toronto) Metalhead, and Harry & Heimir. My friend A.D. (who you also may know as Dzong2) who cowrites the Oscar charts in this category with me, suspects its between Life in a Fishbowl which is extremely popular at home and Paris of the North (which recently played Karlovy).

I'm betting on Life in a Fishbowl due to its spectacular hometown reviews. When you get blurbs like "The Best Icelandic Film In History" and "The Golden Age of Icelandic Cinema Has Begun" and such, people don't just like you - they're obsessed. 

NEW OFFICIAL SUBMISSIONS:  Sweden has chosen Force Majeure (also known as Turist) which made a good splash at Cannes; Finland has chosen Concrete Night; Estonia is submitting a film called Tangerines; Croatia has chosen Cowboys as its submission, Serbia has chosen See You in Montevideo; Luxembourg went with Never Die Young; Venezuela and The Phillipines are also down to just a few films so they'll announce soon. You can read about them all at the Oscar charts which have been fully updated as of today.

UPDATE 11:18 PM: Venezuela has just finished voting and chose the historical drama "The Liberator" in a tight race with the gay-themed poverty drama about a boy and his mother called "Bad Hair" (of which I am a huge fan)

Wednesday
Aug272014

Foreign Film Oscar Watch: Denmark, Germany, Venezuela, Nepal

The trickle of foreign film submission info has become and soon it will be a flood. Over the new few days I'll be filling out a lot more of the foreign language submission charts which are written by me and my multi-lingual friend A.D. who knows so much about foreign cinema in so many atypical places he sometimes makes my head spin. But before all that charty speculation a handful of actual news items. 

Jhola from Nepal

New Official Submissions
Jhola is the official submission from Nepal. Nepal enjoyed one previous nomination in this category for Caravan (1999) but they haven't submitted regularly. Jhola is a period piece about the Nepali society custom of the wife having to set herself on fire when her husband dies and go with him. Horrific! Actress Kanchi Garima Panta is said to be very good in the lead role.

Beloved Sisters was announced today to represent Germany. Germany is always a threat in this category since the country has enjoyed 18 nominations and 3 wins. German films were most popular with Oscar during the Aughts (6 nominations and 2 wins) but despite coming close on those new January 'finalist' lists, they haven't been nominated since Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon (2009) which surely would have won its category had Amour preceded it rather than followed it.

But I'm getting sidetracked with stats. Dominik Graf's Beloved Sister is a romantic love triangle (menage a trois) between the poet Friedrich Schiller and two sisters. The film premiered at Berlinale early this year. Useless trivia: Graf's partner is the director Caroline Link who won the Oscar for Germany for Nowhere in Africa and was also nominated for Beyond Silence.

Narrowing It Down
Denmark, a major powerhouse in this particular category with 10 nominations and 3 wins, is choosing between three films: Niels Arden Oplev's 70's feature Speed Walking set just after pornography was legalized and focused, as I understand it on a confused teenager who loses his mother; Pernille Fischer Christensen's Someone You Love about a singer/songwriter (Mikael Persbrandt who starred in the Danish Oscar winner In a Better World and is in The Hobbit films as well) returning to his homeland to record a new album; and Nils Malmros' semiautobiographical Sorrow and Joy, based on that time his wife, um, killed their child. Yikes.

Denmark won't choose between them until September 18th but both Oplev and Malmros have been selected before, Oplev for Worlds Apart (2008) and Malmros, an important figure in Danish cinema though he's not prolific, for both Boys (1977) and Barbara (1997) respectively. (Oplev, it's probably worth noting, directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) starring Noomi Rapace.) None of those submissions were nominated.

Venezuela has also narrowed it down to a few films but the battle is said to be between Libertador and Bad Hair. You may recall that I saw Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) at the Tribeca Film Festival and I really loved it so obviously that's the one I'm rooting for. I'm not sure if Oscar would respond well but it's brilliantly judged, very subtle, racially though-provoking and gay themed. A.D. thinks that given Venezuela's political climate it'll probably be Libertador which would be a more traditional choice as its a historical war drama about Simon Bolivar who fought over 100 battles in South America. It stars Venezuela's most high profile international star Édgar Ramírez who had such a huge breakthrough a few years back with the miniseries/super long movie Carlos (2010)

Previously Announced Submissions
We've already discussed Poland's amazing film Ida a few times (it seems like a shoo-in but you never know with this category). Other announced submissions include two profile Cannes breakout in Hungary's White God and Turkey's Winter Sleep. And Romania chose The Japanese Dog.

Wednesday
Jul302014

Bergman's Ghosts

This is TFE's late entry into the Hit Me With Your Best Shot gallery of Cries and Whisper's finest moments

Ingmar Bergman will never die. We need not be literal about this. Yes, the great Swedish auteur passed on in 2007 but his rich inimitable* filmography is not of the corporeal so much as its of the spirit (however despairing) or at least the deep recesses of the psyche, if you'd care to differentiate. In collaboration with fellow geniuses cinematographer Sven Nykvist and actress Liv Ullman he captured many of the greatest close-ups in the whole of cinematic history. In a Bergman/Nykvist/Ullman close-up it's not the eyes that are the window to the soul so much as the face as the soul, fully visible even when its bathed in shadow. 

Yet even revealed it's still unknowable. 

best shot

When I first saw Cries and Whispers in college while pursuing my own self-guided lessons in film history, I was astonished by the film's signature move. Each of the  three "living" characters, if you can call them that, the sisters Maria (Liv Ullman) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and the family's housekeeper Anna (Kari Sylwan) are given bookend close-ups. These closeups house memories or dreams or scenes from their point of view. The closeups fade to red and are accompanied by indecipherable whispering. The impression isn't as simple as a haunting; Agnes (Harriest Anderson), who isn't afforded this expressive close-up luxury is still alive when this first starts happening. This unfathomably perfect artistic motif has already removed the film from the literal by the time Agnes dies at which point the film becomes even more incredible, disturbing and profound. What is haunting these women? Any answer feels correct whether you've imagined regrets, the abyss of death, life itself, or the living nightmare of toxic relationships.

See everyone else's choices for "Best Shot" here...

For completists of if you're curious I've included the two runner up shots I considered as "Best" after the jump

Click to read more ...

Friday
Mar212014

Posterized: Lars von Trier

Denmark's most important and most self important troublemaker Lars von Trier is back with the two-part Nymphomaniac. Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as the title character and recounts her lifelong sexcapades. Is there really 5 hours of story to tell? Or is it just hard to edit yourself when you're doing something vignette style? And how do we count this in his filmography anyway... as one or two films?

Is it really one film delivered at two separate chunks or two separate films? Not that Von Trier's filmography is easy to parse in the usual way, making posterized a bit more challenging. [more...]

Click to read more ...