Today: February 28, 2024

European Wonders – Scandinavia

Scandinavias’ film making history dates back to the 1920’s and since then the region has given the word some truly amazing actors, directors and movies.

Scandinavias’
film making history dates back to the 1920’s and since then the region has
given the word some truly amazing actors, directors and movies.

Yet, for the most part, interest in Scandinavia’s film output has traditionally
come from more critical, highbrow circles. This has all started to change in
recent years with the success of TV series like The Killing, Wallander and movies such as Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This month sees the release of Swedish
drama, She Monkeys. In June, veteran
actor Max von Sydow (Death Watch) and fellow Swede, Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) show the world that Scandinavian actors are well used
to playing with the big boys. So, if you are one of those currently feasting on
a visual Scandinavian smorgasbord then you might want to check out our
essential Top Ten. You won’t be disappointed.

(A quick apology to Iceland, who have nothing on
this list. But if everyone could track down the hilarious Icelandic TV series Night Shift, it would go some way to
amending this oversight.)

Haxan
We kick the list off with this rare oddity. Made
in 1922 this Swedish silent horror film may be one of the most bizarre and
creepy films ever made. Presented to us as seven short films, Haxan guides us
through beliefs and understandings of witchcraft through various cultures and
periods. Seen by many as the first ever documentary, Haxan still has the
ability to freak us out with its array of surreal happenings and hideous
creatures.

The
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Whisper it, but The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
isn’t as good as its made out to be. It’s perfectly good, but the hysteria
surrounding it is slightly exaggerated. Its inclusion here is based solely upon
its overwhelming international success and the fact that it spawned one of the
few decent remakes out there. It also gave us one of the most unlikely female
icons in Lisbeth Salander.

Pusher
Last year, Nicolas
Winding Refn
hit the big time with the outstanding Drive. For many, Winding Refn may have seemed like a new kid on the
block but he’s been a big success in his homeland of Denmark for a long time.
Pusher was his first ever film – made way back in 1996. It tells the story of a
very bad week for a drug dealer who sees a major deal fall through and his
desperate attempts to earn back his bosses’ money and respect. Nearly every
gangster film made since owes a great deal to Pusher, not only for its gripping
story but also for the its claustrophobic nature and character development. A
British adaptation is due for release in August.

Troll
Hunter

TROOOOOOL!!!! With that one simple yell we were
introduced to the world of the Troll Hunter, one of the most unlikely hits of
recent years. Shot in a hand held camera/ first person perspective this is a
thrilling adventure movie with some spectacular effects, all done on a modest
budget. The most redeeming factor, though, is that the film is downright
hilarious at times. From the various methods of killing a Troll to whether it
can tell the difference between Christian or Muslim blood. It’s safe to say
that neither Norway nor the rest of the world have ever seen anything like it.

Antichrist
To call Lars
von Trier
controversial would be a bit of an understatement. No director in
the modern age has divided opinions quite as much. Be it either his constant
use of unlikable characters in films or his gratuitously fantastical sequences,
Lars has lost as many admirers as he has gained them. Having said all that, he
does have some interesting things to say – and none more so than in Antichrist.
After losing their child a couple retreat to the countryside to come to terms
with their loss and repair their marriage. Containing real sex, self-castration
and some of the scariest animals ever seen, Antichrist is the most radical
piece of cinema produced by Denmark’s most notorious son.

You,
The Living

Described as the slapstick Ingmar Bergman, Roy
Andersson
crafts amazingly simple films full of emotion and joy. You, The
Living is told in a series of events throughout one city. It takes in all
aspects of humanity and every feeling that we can convey. With Monty Pythonesque sets he forces us to
question things that you would never dream about. Can dogs lie? Can we die in
our dreams? What if a block of flats was actually a train? All this and more is
brought to light throughout the film and every minute is just wonderful.

The
Man Without A Past

Not many directors come from Finland, so to be hailed as one of the
greatest living directors is something quite special and that’s exactly what Aki Kaurismaki has achieved. The Man
Without A Past is considered to be one of his best films. It follows the
fortunes of a man who is attacked and subsequently struck down with amnesia.
With no recollection of his life he is forced to start from scratch. Living on
the streets of Helsinki he encounters a number of characters who try and help
him along the way. Often sentimental and full of great dialogue The Man Without
A Past highlights the prejudices that are unfairly bestowed upon the homeless.
It also features a great soundtrack.

Ordet
Often cited as one of the greatest and most
influential films ever made, Ordet is a powerful and as relevant today as it
was in 1955. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece
is about a Danish family living on a farm and the tribulations of their three
sons. The first one of their sons has become deluded and believes himself to be
Jesus Christ. The other is a devoted husband who is about to become a father
for the second time. The youngest is in love with a tailor’s daughter and seeks
her hand in marriage. What transpires is something metaphorical and spiritual.
It raises the same questions of faith and science that we still do today. A
staggering achievement.

The
Bfi released a restored version of Ordet in March this year.

Let
The Right One In

If you believe the modern perception of vampires
was first altered by Twilight, then
perhaps you should consider Let The
Right One In.
No horror film in recent years has attracted so much critical
applause and recommendation than Tomas
Alfredson’s
instant classic. A young and tormented schoolboy’s life is
changed forever when he befriends and falls in love with Eli, a vampire who has
lived as a small girl for decades. Sometimes scary but often sweet and
poignant, Let The Right One In deals with more social issues than it does blood
sucking. No other horror film has featured such stunning cinematography or
delicacy recently. The less said about the remake the better.

The
Seventh Seal
(Main Picture)
Of all the great directors featured in this
list, all of them undoubtedly owe a debt to Ingmar Bergman. One of the all time greats ranked up their with Hitchcock, Welles and Kurosawa, Bergman’s consistent output
was phenomenal. His films often dealt with death, fear, illness and faith. Out
of all his incredible films, he will mostly be remembered for The Seventh Seal.
The opening scene of a knight playing a game of chess on a beach against Death
is one of the most iconic scenes ever created and instantly recognisable to
this very day. The knight goes on to question Death on life itself and its true
reason. What sounds like a morbid affair is far from that. Sometimes funny,
sometimes scary, we experience a range of emotions as the knight embarks upon
his quest. It also introduced us to the brilliant Max von Sydow and gave Bill
And Ted
one of their greatest jokes. It is a film about the very essence of
life and death and the fragile balance between the two. Anybody of any age
should see this at least once. Film doesn’t get much better than this.

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