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Entries in Scandinavia (47)

Saturday
Jan032015

Best of the Year Pt. 1: Double the Swedes & Triple the Tilda

With love for last year's cinema.

2015 has a lot to live up to. This past year delivered amazing films from fresh-voiced directors, a good number of them female for a change, and it also came through, unexpectedly, with a surprising spread of high quality empathetic and diverse LGBT cinema. But even if you're stuck in multiplex-only towns, the mainstream also delivered with sneaky overachieving surprises in genres as oft-lazy as superheroes, horror, animation, giant monsters, and crime thrillers. When it came time to draw up my lists I had 30 pictures I really wanted to celebrate. Thirty! 

So let's briefly sum up (alphabetically) the films that just missed the top 20


The Boxtrolls - Laika's boldly grotesque superbly-voiced Victorian fable. 
Godzilla - Smartly reimagined not as reboot but myth returned. The paratroopers. Gah!
Edge of Tomorrow - Emily Blunt's 'full metal bitch' isn't easy to forget. Neither is the film's gleeful rapid fire anarchy in treating Tom Cruise as South Park might. "You killed Tom Cruise!" Repeat ∞
Happy Christmas - No budget? No problem. Just write a warm funny script, film it in your home and hire famous actor friends. Joe Swanberg is living the Cassavettes dream only seems much happier about it.
The LEGO Movie - Excessively clever and fun. But in truth I'd rather it win a Clio than an Oscar.
A Most Violent Year - a slow simmer but Jessica Chastain is at full boil
Nightcrawler - Jake & Rene's bring out each other's best but their character's worst in this amoral nightmare. Great dialogue but man do those laughs curdle.
Two Days One Night - Belgium's Oscar submission is simple in narrative if not in complexity of feeling but Marion Cotillard is impossibly good / real / Oscar worthy
The Way He Looks - In a simply fantastic year for queer cinema (thank god - it's been a while) this was the sweetest offering, a coming of age pic about a blind teenager and his two best friends
Wild Tales - A raucously entertaining Argentinian anthology produced by Pedro Almodóvar and directed with skill and wicked invention by Damian Szifron. If you can, see it with a group of friends (comedies are always best that way). I'm already sad I didn't include it in the top 20!

So here we are. Twenty may feel like an indulgent number to settle on for this 2014 countdown party but it comes down to this. No matter how many times I adjusted my "tippity top" movies list I couldn't live without these twenty. They were the ones that refused to budge, that defined the year for me, that demanded top ten placement, refuting the laws of math. To sum up: This cinephile had a great year in the dark. If you were positive I loved it and you don't see it in the top 20, it's tied for 21st! 

The film year is not drawing to a close just yet -- we keep celebrating through Oscar night. But the calendar year is a wrap so here is part one of my favorites roundup starting with a Tilda Swinton double feature...

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Sunday
Nov162014

Stockholm: Wrapping Up with Uma, Ingmar Bergman and ABBA!

Glenn's last report from the Stockholm Film Festival...

The Stockholm International Film Festival is now over and as I try and drain the last remaining symptoms of jetlag out of my body (not to mention any recurring dependence on restaurant food, great wine, and luxurious European comfort that such a trip offers) it’s time to take one last look back. I will miss seeing the image of Uma Thurman lording over her loyal subjects as I walk down Drottningattan every day.

The FIPRESCI jury – combined of myself, Quirijn Foeken of The Netherlands, and Dieter Wieczorek of France – awarded our price to Hungry Hearts from Italian director Saverio Costanzo. The film stars Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher (you may remember her from I Am Love) as a couple whose impending child brings about an avalanche of potentially fatal paranoia. It was the first film that we saw at the festival and despite some rallying by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, and Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross, it just felt right.

For what it’s worth, this was my top ten, hastily scribbled on a napkin...

(ABBA, Bergman’s chair, drinks with Debra, Force Majeure, and more after the jump…)

 

Now that the winner of #sff14 has been announced, I can share this list of my top ten from the festival and what I voted for.

A photo posted by Glenn Dunks (@glennwithaniphonecamera) on Nov 11, 2014 at 6:20am PST

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Saturday
Nov012014

Review: Force Majeure

Amir here to talk Sweden's Oscar submission, now in theaters...

The opening sequence of Ruben Ostlund’s fourth feature, Force Majeure, has an ominous aura to it. On the surface, there is nothing strange about a happy, wealthy Swedish family stopping for a family portrait during their vacation at a posh French ski resort. Yet, as their unseen photographer becomes more assertive with his commands, ordering them to get closer together and forces the corners of their lips upward, something seems amiss. No sign of trouble is yet to be found though, as Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their white-as-snow children spend the first couple of days skiing together. It is during lunch at the high-end restaurant on the balcony of their hotel that everything falls apart at the seams, revealing the tenuous links that keep this family – or is it every family? – together.

Tomas insists that the loud bang and the ensuing avalanche are controlled by resort patrols, but when panic strikes all diners, it is he who abandons ship first, opting for his own survival as he runs away from his family. When this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pivotal moment in the narrative is over and the snow powder settles, Tomas is overcome with shame but returns to the table as though nothing out the ordinary has happened. For Ebba and the children, however, the gravity of the mistake makes it unforgivable. As the vacation progresses and story of that fateful moment is repeated between Tomas, Ebba and their friends, perceptions change, stakes are raised and bonds are severed and mended again. The avalanche has hit the family like, well, an avalanche; but as Nathaniel correctly pointed out in his review, the analogy only feels forced when articulated by the reviewer, not when the director slyly works in into the film. 

Ostlund tells this story with a remarkable panache for minimalist style and minimalist storytelling. The snow-covered background affords him the possibility to concoct some of the most memorable images and sounds of any film this year, but more impressive is how he replicates the same clean, sparse atmosphere in his storytelling. With a keen eye for small interactions between characters, Ostlund manages to say quite a lot while saying very little. Note one particular instance, where an uncomfortable Brady Corbet (unexpectedly brilliant in a tiny role) is asked to adjudicate between Tomas and Ebba. Ostlund has been similarly preoccupied with awkward group encounters in his previous films, and here, holding the camera as a taciturn Corbet nervously fidgets around in his seat to avoid delivering responses, he proves his knack for capturing truthfully these small but crucial interactions.

Force Majeure is about our perceptions of each other, the image we project of ourselves, and our differing perspectives, and above all it’s about how tenuous all of these things are, how friendships and relationship and even familial bonds can be broken with one moment’s worth of complete idiocy. Then again, how stupid is Tomas’s mistake? Can a single momentary slip break everything? Whose perspective do we accept as the truth? Ostlund toys with these questions without offering definite answers, knowing well that there can be none. If anything is definitively claimed, it’s the vulnerability of man and his position in the traditional family structure. For all its pretensions of power and control, no institution is as fragile and easily bruised as masculinity. Kuhnke’s performance as the man crumbling under the weight of his own self-image and perceived infallibility is perfectly pitched to the film’s sense of humor.

Ostlund’s comedy is dry and detail-oriented. In several instances, it is only the framing of a character, or a split-second cut that causes uproarious laughter. It is an absurd sense of humor, too. Consider that the film’s biggest moment of comedy gold is delivered not by an actor, but by a remote controlled toy drone. Only in the hands of an extremely confident director like Ostlund can such storytelling succeed. After a couple of minor festival hits, Force Majeurehas now entered him among the world’s most exciting filmmakers.

Related
Scandinavian Films
Oscar Submission Charts

 

25 of 83 Foreign Submissions Reviewed
AfghanistanArgentinaAustraliaBelgium,
BrazilCanadaCuba, Czech Republic, Finland,
France, GeorgiaGermany, HungaryIceland,
Israel, ItalyLatviaMauritaniaNorway,
PolandPortugalSweden, Switzerland,
Uruguay, and Venezuela

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.

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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...

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