If this relentless, frigid winter has you cooped up all Bergmanian — contemplating your sanity, the meaning of life — why not venture out this weekend to find solace (or at least some fun) in a celebration of modern Scandinavian cinema?
The Nordic Lights Film Festival, which is going on from Friday to next Thursday over at St. Anthony Main, has more than a dozen films from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden to take your mind off this winter’s miserable chill. While they’re not 2014 fresh, the movies are a sample of the admirable work coming out of northern Europe in the last few years.
Almost stereotypically, many of the films in this year’s line-up are serious, brooding, even taciturn; but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems among them, like Denmark’s The Hunt, which is nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. (If I didn’t love The Great Beauty so much, I’d probably back this for Sunday’s awards). We also find The Hunt‘s leading man, Mads Mikkelsen (whom you probably recognize as the Bond villain from Casino Royale), in A Royal Affair, an 18th century period drama with a wicked love triangle. But Mads isn’t all Scandinavia has to offer. There’s also the retro Swedish political epic Call Girl, as well as the gorgeous Finnish reindeer cowboy documentary Aatsinki.And if you just want a high seas adventure flick, there’s Norway’s Kon-Tiki.
Below are some capsule reviews of just some of the films in the festival. For a full schedule, click here. General admission to screenings is $8.50, and for members it’s $5. And if you’ve got an academic urge, there’ll be an opening night talk at 7:15 p.m. Friday with Dr. Anna Stenport, who’ll speak on “Fire and Ice,” the festival’s theme.
Aatsinki: The Story Of Arctic Cowboys: Saturday, March 1 (2:45 p.m.)
Director: Jessica Oreck
A fly on the wall look at the lives of modern reindeer cowboys, Aatsinki is more a document of a lifestyle than a story of one, as alluded to in the title. Like Dmitry Vasyukov’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, the film follows the lives of its subjects — reindeer herders in Finland, well north of the arctic circle — for a year. We start in autumn. We see reindeer corralled by the workers and their families, and some are slaughtered. While we don’t see the animals being killed, we do see them being gutted, skinned and butchered. It’s not easy to watch, but it’s not gross either. If anything, the blood and bone-breaking works to show contrast in these workers’ lives. Just as they are down and dirty in some scenes (castrating males, making coffee over campfires), they’re flying technologically high in the next (tracking herds on snowmobiles, in helicopters, gifting their kids Nintendo handhelds for Christmas). Tourism has also wedged into their lives, especially in winter. Managing reindeer in the arctic also entails managing sleigh rides with tour guides and translators. By themselves, such scenes don’t make such interesting viewing, yet taken together with everything else, a portrait of a life emerges that’s easy to respect and equate with America’s Old Western ideals. Just change out the cacti and tumbleweeds for boreal forests and serene snowfields. Fans of winterporn won’t be disappointed.
Call Girl: Sat., March 1 (9:20 p.m.); Mon., March 3 (3:15 p.m.); Tues., March 4 (8:15 p.m.)
Director: Mikael Marcimain
Set in the sexually liberated Sweden of the 1970s, Call Girl follows a 14-year-old named Iris (Sofia Karemyr) as she goes from living in a state-run group home to being a prostitute for those in the government’s upper echelons. Attention to period detail brings the film to life and showcases the hypocrisy of those in power as they actively campaign for women’s rights in front of voters before paying for sex and erotic political parties behind closed doors. The film is supposedly based on true events, although it’s tough to tell which parts are history and which are fiction. Clocking in at well over two hours, Call Girl often slows in scenes of teenage angst — Karemyr looking pensive, like a scared cat in glittery makeup — before relying on Mattias Bärjed’s synthy and psychedelic soundtrack to get things moving. There’s loads of dancing and nudity and drug use, but the sex comes off as a chore. We see it through the eyes of the Iris and her best friend Sonja (Josefin Asplund), and we’re concerned most of the time about how they’re going to escape the power-hungry, sex-addicted world they’ve been lured into. Meanwhile, there’s also some cop trying to expose the political elite from inside their own government. Sadly, he comes into the movie so late that he’s hard to give a damn about. Still, Call Girl’s got style, and it goes a long way.
Kon-Tiki: Sunday, March 2 (6: 45 p.m.); Wednesday, March 5 (6:20 p.m.)
Director: Mikael Marcimain
While it certainly deserves its place in this festival, Kon-Tiki is probably one of the few films that’s almost entirely in English. That’s not a bad thing, just some scenes play a bit weird when characters of the same nationality use the international default instead their mother tongue. Then again, not having to read subtitles in this maritime adventure flick is refreshing. Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Kon-Tiki retells the true story of Norwegian scientist Thor Heyerdahl and his totally bad-ass ethnographic gamble. In 1947, after spending a decade studying cultures in Polynesia, Heyerdahl set out to prove that South Americans settled the Oceania islands by sailing over the Pacific — a distance roughly the same as that between Minneapolis and Moscow. And how did he plan prove it? By doing exactly what the ancient South Americans supposedly did: sailing a wooden raft over 5,000 nautical miles of storm-swept, shark-infested waters. The story is a moving testament to human bravery, but performances are a bit stale, as is character development. Heyerdahl, played by Pål Sverre Hagen, has so much faith in his project that he never really changes throughout the journey, except to grow more tan and some obviously fake facial hair. Still, the story carries weight. The boldness of the feat and the fact that it inspired those who would walk on the moon make it something truly unforgettable. Undoubtedly, Heyerdahl is a hero. However, this theories about South Americans settling Polynesia remain fringe. So say what you will about faith.
The Hunt; Sunday, March 2 (9:30 p.m.); Wednesday, March 5 (9 p.m.)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Just when Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) finds himself with custody of his son and a beautiful new girlfriend, a few words ruin his life. A girl at the kindergarten where he works tells someone that she saw a part of Lucas she’s not supposed to see. It’s a lie…but kids don’t lie, or so everyone in this Danish town thinks. Pretty soon all the other kids claim sexual abuse, too, and Lucas’ world implodes. He loses his girlfriend, his best friend, and he can’t even shop at the supermarket before being asked to leave or punched in the face. Legally, he’s innocent, but no one believes it. Still, he fights for his rights, his place in the near picture-perfect Nordic community that’s made him a pariah. Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg keeps the focus on the victim, and Mikkelsen’s face can convey various shades of loneliness, madness, anger, and determinism. Acts of violence arrive with gut-punch intensity, and there’s hardly ever a moment when you think the story won’t veer off into some cruel, soul-crushing direction. And if you ever needed an excuse to mistrust kindergartners, here it is.