Attention enthusiasts of all things Nordic and those of Scandinavian blood: a blizzard of movies is making its way from Europe to the St. Anthony Main Theatre. The weeklong festival, which starts Friday, is packed-full of films, one of which is among the most satisfying I’ve seen in 2013.
The Nordic Lights Film Festival (now in its fourth year) includes nine feature-length films and a collection of shorts. The features range from the sex-bonkers, Danish Klown to the austere and evocative Icelandic Volcano.
Below are some short reviews by myself and fellow blogger Eric Henderson — a man who wears his Scandinavian heritage on his tattooed sleeves. For a list of showtimes (FYI: Klown plays Friday night) check out the Film Society’s website.
Liv & Ingmar
Director: Dheeraj Akolkar
Showtimes: Friday at 6 p.m. | Saturday at noon | Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Among all actor-director combinations, few were as storied or rewarding as the pairing of actress Liv Ullman with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Her wide eyes with permanently upturned brows radiated perpetual existential torment, a note Bergman exercised in many of his heaviest efforts. (The only other one to compare was Ingrid Thulin, star of The Silence and Winter Light, but her stint with heavy-era Bergman was much more concentrated.) It’s hardly surprising that their professional and personal relationship — one which is reflected by or reflected upon Scenes from a Marriage — has had such an active ancillary life, just as it’s hardly surprising that Ullman (by this point) is justifiably starting to express some level of exasperation that most people encapsulate her entire career within Bergman’s works. Liv & Ingmar gives her the benefit of the doubt by handing over the narrative of their romance largely to her own recollections (along with some material from Bergman’s memoirs), making this a likely must-see documentary about film snobs’ own Brangelina. — Eric Henderson
The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System
Director: Bob Compton
Showtimes: Saturday at 1:45 p.m. | Monday at 4 p.m.
In part because Minnesota was settled by Scandinavians, The Finland Phenomenon pits our relatively successful students against those of Finland — a country in which kids are rarely tested, have almost zero homework and enjoy a long summer vacation. And the young Finns stomp us, utterly destroy us by comparison. They consistently rank first (or close to first) on international tests, and they do it without “leaving kids behind.” How do they do it? That’s what this rather artless documentary explores. Despite littering the screen with visually irritating factoids, the movie does highlight major differences between the school systems of the U.S. and Finland. The most outstanding one, to me, was the status of teachers. In Finland, they are highly respected “knowledge workers.” In our country, the phrase — “Those who can’t do, teach” — is nearly gospel. Shepherded by a personable Harvard academic, the movie covers class sizes, Finland’s trust-based academic culture, and its experimental teaching tactics. And although this movie is in a Nordic film festival, it doesn’t force you to read subtitles. Everyone in Finland, by virtue of their education, speaks precise, articulate English. — Jonathon Sharp
Director: Rúnar Rúnarsson
Showtimes: Saturday 2 p.m. | Wednesday 5:15 p.m.
Volcano tore through my heart strings like a 10 pound claymore. Rúnar Rúnarsson‘s bittersweet love story centers on the grumpy and depressed Hannes (Theodor Juliusson) as he enters retirement. After aborting a suicide attempt, the man hardly has words for his wife or children. He takes joy only in cigarettes and the sea. But when a boating trip goes bad, he somehow makes right with his wife, and the two enjoy some of the most graphic elderly sex I think I’ve seen on screen. The happiness, however, is short-lived. Over a favorite meal, Hannes’ wife suffers a stroke, which confines her to a bed and the dumb language of pain. Devastated, Hannes tries to care of her despite the wishes of his estranged children. His struggle is captured in outrageously evocative photography, and Juliusson carries the gravity of the film as though it were a second shadow. These things, combined with Rúnarsson‘s tight direction, make Volcano deeply moving, without any melodrama or sentimentality. I wonder if it’s a masterpiece. — JS
Turn Me On, Dammit!
Director: Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
Showtimes: Saturday at 9 p.m. | Monday at 7:45 p.m.
To a certain generation, Scandinavian films will always be associated with a certain naughtiness. Ever since I Am Curious (Yellow) became the subject of courtroom smut battles, the phrase “Swedish bookshops” has been shorthand for you know what. Turn Me On, Dammit!, a Norwegian coming of age drama about a 15-year-old girl coming to terms with her sexual impulses, twists expectation by filtering its young heroine’s longings into a pseudo-“Teenage Dream” context, while still remaining frank and psychologically transparent. And if Turn Me On is any indication, Scandinavia is hardly the panacea of sexual forthrightness. When Alma’s (Helene Bergsholm) gears start grinding, it seems the entire world is conspiring to keep her from, well, grinding. Her mom calls her urges “abnormal,” her friends get weirded out, and the boy she fantasizes about exploits a vicious double standard. Turn Me On is no cheap reverie, but shoots right for the heart of teen desires. — EH