Posted by Roy Stafford on 8 April 2014
The two brothers in ‘Whale Valley’
Bradford prides itself on its programming of shorts. I’m not really a shorts fan and I do tend to neglect them, though I appreciate the importance of short filmmaking in the ecology of film production generally. BIFF 2014 featured short films in a variety of programming slots. The ‘Shine Short Film Competition’ comprised six films shown as a programme twice and individual entries shown before the main feature elsewhere in the programme. I saw only two of the six, one of which, Cadet (Belgium 2013) won the prize (report to follow). I didn’t see any of the Sydney Underground Shorts which screened before the late night horror films in the ‘Bradford After Dark’ programme. (I couldn’t watch the late-night films as there is no all-night public transport to get me the nine miles home.) I only saw one of the Charles Urban early scientific films – these too had a separate programme.
I did see most of the ‘Cinetrain: Russian Winter’ films that were dotted across the main programme. This funded production programme invited international filmmakers to make films about communities in Northern Russia during the ferocious Russian winter. It’s an interesting project with information available on its website. Bradford showed all seven films which attempted to explore “the most common stereotypes about Russia”. These include excessive drinking, open-air bathing in the depths of winter, traditional Russian crafts etc. I was most intrigued by the village dwellers in one community who complained about the disintegration of local community/collectivist spirit. They viewed the new capitalist Russia with mistrust and felt that today people steal from each other to get by when they used to help each other. That’s a side of the new Russia that doesn’t get as much media attention as it should.
Other than these separate programmes, each of the ‘official features’ was also accompanied by an appropriate short film. I confess that under pressure with several screenings on the same day I sometimes missed the short on purpose to give myself a few extra minutes of breathing space. I’ll just pick out one other short (some are mentioned alongside the feature screenings). The one that impressed me most (i.e. appealed to my interests) was Whale Valley (Iceland-Denmark 2013) directed by Arnar Gudmundsson. This tells a complete and satisfying story about two brothers – a genuine ‘Nordic noir’ – on their farm (see the still above) in 15 minutes of skilled narrative filmmaking. I wasn’t surprised to learn about its success at festivals worldwide.
Posted in Belgian Cinema, Danish Cinema, Festivals and Conferences, Icelandic Cinema, Nordic Cinema, Russian cinema, Short films | Tagged: BIFF 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 12 March 2014
Uma Thurman, Hugo Speer and Stacey Martin. Speer’s character wants to leave his wife (Thurman) and move in with Jo.
I’m not sure why I wanted to see this film. I’d previously seen only one Lars von Trier film (Dancer in the Dark, 2000), not wanting to see the others after reading about them. However, Nymphomaniac seems to have had some decent reviews and I thought I needed to see something else of the work of the provocateur extraordinaire since he clearly attracts audiences.
The ‘plot’ of Nymphomaniac explores the sexual life of Jo from her early teenage years to her late 40s. The narrative structure uses a long flashback so the film begins with the older Jo lying bruised and battered in an alleyway in a nondescript urban setting, where she is found by Seligman, an older man who has a small apartment close by. He takes her in and she begins to tell her story – how she became a nymphomaniac.
There is a strange lack of identity in the film. This European co-production is presented in English (the Press Pack is in American English – the character is written as ‘Joe’ which I would usually think of as a male name). This in itself is not unusual for an ‘international film’ but, though filmed mainly in Germany, various aspects of the dialogue suggest that this is supposed to be the UK. It’s not clear to me if von Trier is trying to present a kind of ‘everywhere’. It would make sense to do so as otherwise we might attempt to read something from the UK context. Perhaps the film is a Danish joke about British attitudes to sex?
It’s a big ask for a young actor to be on screen for so much of the film in her debut role, but Stacey Martin does very well as the young Jo. Many reviews have picked up on the brief but powerful cameo by Uma Thurman as an angry wife and mother. The rest of the cast are also good but I don’t think that the script helps them – or the flat lighting and drab mise en scène. I wasn’t really provoked or excited by what was shown except by the scenes of Jo with her father on his hospital bed which did seem to have some emotional content. The numerous explicit sex scenes are not erotic. OK perhaps there was the occasional flicker of eroticism, but I think it is safe to assume that von Trier’s intention is not necessarily to arouse. Much of it is tedious and especially the repeated dialogue exchanges in which Jo (in her older self played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) tells Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) that she is a “bad human being” and he assures her that no such thing exists. I think we get the point Lars.
I think I’ll have to see Part 2 in order to say anything sensible about how I read the film. It’s slightly worrying that it might include more of the moralising banalities from Seligman – and the chunks of erudition about fly fishing and other pursuits. On the other hand we will get more of the mature Jo played by Gainsbourg. Does Von Trier have something profound to tell us about nymphomania/sex addiction and/or the human spirit? Watch this space.
Posted in Danish Cinema | Tagged: Lars von Trier, sexuality in film | 4 Comments »
Posted by keith1942 on 25 November 2013
Dogme #1, directed by Thomas Vinterberg and released in Denmark in 1998 was one of the European Catalyst films screened at the Leeds International Film Festival. These films have “game changing features running through the history of world cinema that were the first in influential movements.” There can be few examples where the opening salvo of a movement has arrived with so much aplomb and panache as Festen (The Celebration).
Three siblings, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), Hélene (Paprika Steen) and Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) arrive at an affluent hotel for the celebrations of their wealthy father’s sixtieth birthday. The dinner and party are also attended by a large number of members of the extended family, friends and colleagues. And there is also a ghost at the banquet: Christian’s dead twin sister Linda, who committed suicide. Revelations from the past during the weekend reveal this as a completely dysfunctional family, with not only vicious verbal infighting but outright violence.
The film was made following the ‘Ten Commandments’ of the Dogme Manifesto. So we have all the trademarks of this film group: hand-held camera, natural lighting and sound, no special effects and the then rare Academy film ratio. The film was shot of video, [though Vinterberg would have preferred 35mm] and this gives it a raw and tawdry look. What is most noticeable about the film is another Dogme trademark, the intensity of characterisation and action. Henning Moritzen, who plays the father, was quoted from a press conference in Sight & Sound (February 1999) “The main departure was that the camera followed him rather than him having to follow the camera. He didn’t have to worry about hitting marks and was therefore able to give a performance much closer to what he would have attempted had he been playing the corrupt old patriarch on stage.”
The film inverts one of the recent stereotypes of popular cinema and television, the dysfunctional proletarian family. Here it is the bourgeois family that is dysfunctional. Vinterberg is quoted in the Festival Catalogue: “You know fascism is very much about the anxiety of the ‘foreign’. And I guess this whole story is about that. The anxiety of something else other than what you’re used to. Something breaking the rituals, something disturbing the rituals.” He makes the point that Hélene brings with her an African-American boyfriend Gbatokai (Gbatokai Dakinah). Just about all of the guests at this party join in the singing of a racist song. And Michael, who is dominated by oedipal feelings, attacks several people including his own wife and workers at the hotel. At times the appalling older members of the family reminded me of those in Visconti’s great film The Damned (Götterdämmerung 1969).
Roy, in his review of the film, suggested that it is melodrama – which is true. He also suggests that it is a genre film – which I think not. This would breach the Dogme Vow ‘Genre movies are not acceptable.’ I think that melodrama is a mode of drama, rather like tragedy. A genre would be the family melodrama. Of course, you could place this film in that genre: the Sight & Sound article also suggested the country house drama. And we do have conventional plot mechanisms such as the revelation from the past, and the letter from the past. But the film completely subverts these as indeed it subverts the conventions of most of the contemporary cinema.
Vinterberg, along with Dogme comrade Lars von Trier, threw a bombshell into the world of film in 1998, rather along the lines of the bombshell that Christian lobs into the expensive gourmet meal at the weekend. I was as impressed at this screening as I was when the film first appeared. This is great cinema – funny, sardonic, even tragic and certainly moving. And we watched it on a good 35mm print, the format in which it was originally released.
Posted in Danish Cinema, Festivals and Conferences | Tagged: Dogme films, Leeds International Film Festival | 2 Comments »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 15 April 2013
Trine Dyrholm is Ida
Susanne Bier’s romantic comedy drama is the best mainstream entertainment film I’ve seen in a very long time. The film is partly in English and partly in Danish so the subtitling will unfortunately put off a lot of the audience who would enjoy it if they took the plunge. Given that it features at least one of the stars of recent TV Nordic Noirs perhaps that will entice a few more converts. This isn’t art cinema, it’s a mainstream film that happens to include subtitles. If Slumdog can make it, so can this film – although it could do with a better title.
The film is completely conventional. There are still a few surprises in the way scenes play out, but this is a genre piece. The central character Ida, beautifully played by Trine Dyrholm, is a woman in her forties recovering from breast cancer and a mastectomy. Shocked to discover her husband (Kim Bodnia from The Bridge TV serial) in flagrante with someone from work, she has to get her act together to attend her daughter’s wedding in a villa in Italy owned by the groom’s father, Philip (Pierce Brosnan). She bumps into Philip, literally, in the airport car park. He’s a widower and a seemingly grumpy owner of an international fruit and veg company. You can probably make up the rest yourself. In the best traditions of the Lancashire weddings on Coronation Street, a lot is said and done or not done. So why is the film so wonderful? Partly it is the quality of the acting, partly the script (by Bier and her long-time collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen) but mostly, I think, it is the sensitivity of Susanne Bier’s direction. She can move a scene from the comic to the dramatic and back with such skill that you can’t see the join. Visually the film is stunning. OK, Sorrento is very photogenic but here the colours are pushed to the edge of being beautiful and nearly, but not quite, pushed over into kitsch. If I remember rightly, Susanne Bier studied architecture at some point and the use of the villa is fascinating with several shots, as per Jules et Jim, of the balconies in the morning as the characters come out to look at the sea. The titles of the film are enchanting. I’m not so sure about the music but that’s a minor quibble. In the international market some will be surprised to see a warm comedy from Bier after the success of a string of melodramas but one of her first big successes in Denmark was a romantic comedy (The One and Only in 1999 – which, since it stars Sidse Babett Knudsen would be worth a UK distributer digging out).
In a rather cold review Lesley Felperin in Variety says it’s a film for the middle-aged, which is probably true. But given that in the UK we have been offered a whole stream of films for older viewers, I would argue that this film is far better than the Marigold Hotels and Quartets of the last few years. Susanne Bier is one of the most skilled directors working in European cinema. Compared to Hollywood films (made in the US or the UK) this is a more intelligent and more grown-up romantic comedy drama than we are now able to get from the studios. It reminds us that many years ago we could go to see films by Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks or George Cukor – comedies with great actors and scripts with witty dialogue. What do we get now? Such films do still exist but they are confined to specialised cinema since Hollywood patronises its mainstream audience. Perhaps it needs Susanne Bier to show the studios how it’s done? I don’t really see why younger audiences shouldn’t enjoy the film and it needs to be recorded that Molly Blixt Egelind who plays Astrid, Ida’s daughter, the bride is very good and reminded me a little of Uma Thurman.
Posted in Comedies, Danish Cinema, Festivals and Conferences, Films by women, Nordic Cinema, Romance | Tagged: BIFF 2013, romantic comedy | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 15 April 2013
Roland Møller and Johan Philip Asbæk in Kapringen
Tobias Lindholm must be currently one of the hottest screenwriting talents in Europe after his work on Borgen and The Hunt. Here he adds directing to his talents in a taut and utterly gripping account of the hijacking of a Danish freighter in the Indian Ocean. Lindholm’s script is an exercise in paring down the drama to just two locations – the shipping offices in Copenhagen and the ship itself. In Copenhagen two of the Borgen actors known to UK audiences, Søren Malling and Dar Salim, are in contact with the ship’s cook (Borgen‘s Johan Philip Asbæk), who the Somali pirates have chosen as a negotiating tool as part of a deliberate strategy. The pirates have their own negotiator, Omar, who speaks good English. He remains a mysterious figure throughout – what is his situation, is he being used against his will, or is it all an act? To counteract this the shipping CEO (the Malling character) recruits an expert negotiator played by a real Copenhagen-based security consultant. All the direct negotiation is in English.
The production was based in Mombasa and the ship itself was once hi-jacked so there is a basis of authenticity which is built on in terms of the script. These hi-jacking negotiations can drag out for weeks and months as time is always on the side of the pirates. The brilliance of the script is to emphasise the waiting but also to provide sufficient moments of increased tension and then release without resorting to the kinds of Hollywood conventions in a film like Argo. Lindholm opts to keep the emotional pressure built up in the families back home in the background, placing it instead on the CEO Peter and the decisions he makes. Malling plays the role very effectively. The whole negotiation process raises the obvious questions about the ‘uncaring capitalist ethic’ – how much is the shipping company prepared to pay, how long will they allow the suffering on the boat to continue? On the other hand, would paying too much too soon encourage the pirates to raise the takes? I don’t know the Danish government policy on hi-jackings but Lindholm keeps external agencies completely out of the narrative and that’s probably a good idea. I’ve seen some questions about the representation of the Somali pirates and it’s also worth noting that there are other crew members on the ship who are not given any real screen time. They too will have friends and family back home somewhere in India or South-East Asia. Someone needs to write a script about them as well. It’s probably asking too much of Lindholm to do that on this project, but it is something that Danish writers need to consider as they make more forays into global stories (not that other film industries are necessarily better at doing this, but Danish film and TV is on something of a roll at the moment).
This is a terrific thriller with not a wasted second. Johan Philip Asbæk is particularly good – I noticed that he had a personal coach to help him put on the pounds and a beard to make a convincing ship’s cook. With its Borgen stars to the fore this should do very well in the UK if Arrow can manage to promote it (and the Susanne Bier film) effectively.
Posted in Danish Cinema, Festivals and Conferences, Nordic Cinema | Tagged: BIFF 2013, thriller | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 3 February 2013
Anne (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Ask (Nicolas Bro) at their counselling session in Above the Street, Below the Water.
Missing Borgen already and need a fix of Sidse Babett Knudsen? This UK DVD release offers an enjoyable family melodrama with a star-studded cast and some comic scenes. It’s presented in CinemaScope framing and acts as an almost ‘real estate porn’ promo for life on the Copenhagen waterfront. The strange title refers to the close proximity of three couples living around one of the more attractive canals in Copenhagen city centre.
Sidse Babett Knudsen is Anne, an actor preparing for a performance as Ophelia in a new production of Hamlet in the waterfront theatre. She is married to Ask (Nicolas Bro – the Justice Minister in The Killing 2). The marriage isn’t going well and he is having an affair with Bente (Ellen Hillingsø), a drama critic separated from Bjørn (Anders W. Berthelsen – the shipping magnate in The Killing 3). Bjørn is now drinking away his time and living on his boat moored on the canal where he is overlooked by Charlotte (Ellen Nyman) who works as a counsellor and who is currently listening to Anne and Ask fight through her sessions. Charlotte is married to Carl (Nils Ole Oftebro), the director-manager of the theatre where Anne is to perform her Ophelia. Carl appears to be a ‘serial shagger’ of any passing woman who might be amenable. As well as these interconnections, the children of Anne and Ask and Bente and Bjørn are also in contact – and are seemingly more ‘sorted’ than their parents.
I confess that I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It’s slight but has several redeeming features, not least the chance to see Sidse Babett Knudsen in a very different role. She is flustered, forgetful and liable to lose it. She’s also 10lbs overweight and unable to get into her dress as Ophelia and she looks positively ‘raddled’ – a far cry from the perfect Birgitte in Borgen. She’s also brilliant. (Her son in the film is played by the very young Emil Poulsen who repeats the role so successfully in Borgen). All the cast are very good and the director Charlotte Sieling (with plenty of experience directing episodes of The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen) makes sure it moves at a good pace. I’d starting watching it late at night thinking I’d just fit in the first 30 minutes – but I watched the whole film because I got caught up in it. If you don’t like the intertwining narratives of soap opera or the coincidences of melodrama, this won’t be for you – but plenty of us do and this is a very good example of the genre. It’s definitely worth seeking out on rental or download.
Posted in Danish Cinema, Films by women, Melodrama, Nordic Cinema | Tagged: Sidse Babett Knudsen | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 26 January 2013
The Grand Teatret, the principal arthouse cinema in the centre of Copenhagen.
Danish film and television is very much a presence in the international arena. With an Oscar nomination for A Royal Affair next month and the extensive international sales of the filmed TV serials The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge, this small European country with a population of only 5.5 million and a language only intelligible to its Scandinavian neighbours is competing effectively with much bigger international players.
According to a Cineuropa report, 2012 was a successful year at the Danish cinema box office with record attendances of 14.2 million – the best for 30 years. 28% of the film market was captured by the 21 Danish releases with the three standouts being A Royal Affair alongside Susanne Bier’s Love Is All You Need and Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis’ This Life. Bier’s film is a romantic comedy-drama starring Pierce Brosnan set for release in several European countries. This Life is a Second World War family drama which I don’t think has sold outside Denmark yet.
The Hunt, which has gathered so much praise around the world, isn’t included in these figures because it wasn’t released in Denmark until 10 January 2013 – when it had the second highest audience figures for an opening weekend since 2000. It was delayed so as not to compete with the other Danish releases, but it has contributed to the success of Danish films at international festivals where they have won 82 prizes from the 272 screenings.
Denmark sees only half the number of film titles released in the UK, France and Germany – 256 in 2011. There are approx. 161 cinemas with 396 screens, but only 18 multiplexes (2011 figures). With local films getting over 20% of the market, around 55% goes directly to Hollywood and 15% to other European films (the biggest earners being UK-US Hollywood productions such as Skyfall, the biggest box-office winner in 2012). Overall Denmark competes with Norway for the role of most cinema visits per head in Scandinavia at around 2.2.
Acoording to Cineuropa’s ‘country profile’ the average budget for a Danish film is €2.3 million with nearly 40% of funding coming from the Danish Film Institute (a useful statistics manual, in English, is available for download) – in 2012 the total DFI Production and Development spend was €39 million. The two main public service broadcasters in Denmark, DR and TV2 are both expected to support the funding of Danish films and to broadcast them. DR’s television serial drama productions such as The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge have played a central role in introducing the amazing acting talent in Denmark to audiences worldwide with series sold to terrestrial networks and VOD providers around the world. The serials feature actors who work in cinema features and theatre and episodes are written and directed by creatives also working in cinema. These three serials will go down as marking a change in Denmark’s international film profile much as the first Dogme films did between 1998 and 2002.
Posted in Danish Cinema, Film industry, Global television, Nordic Cinema | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 14 January 2013
Lars Mikkelsen (left) as the spin doctor feeding the naïve Ulrik (Anders W. Berthelsen)
Was this the blueprint for Borgen (and The Killing to some extent)? I missed it altogether on its limited UK release in 2005 and caught it as a VOD offer from Lovefilm (I think it is also available on DVD, but at a price). King’s Game was a major box office and critical winner in Denmark as the first film from Nikolaj Arcel, recently nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar with A Royal Affair, one of our films of the year. It is based on a novel by a politician and deals with internecine strife in the Centre Party in Denmark during an election campaign.
The central character is Ulrik, a young journalist played by Anders W. Berthelsen (the father of the abducted child in The Killing III). He suddenly discovers that he has been offered the chance by his newspaper to join the team covering ‘parliamentary affairs’ at Borgen. He has no previous experience of politics except that his father, now a businessman, was once Justice Minister for the Centre Party. His first visit to Borgen occurs when the Centre Party is in disarray after a car crash puts its leader into hospital. He is seriously ill and there are fears for his life. Ulrik is then offered a story (in an indirect way) about the ‘next in line’ at the Centre Party – by the party’s own spin doctor (nicely played by Lars Mikkelsen (Troels, the mayoral candidate) in Killing I. How long will it take the naïve Ulrik to twig that he is being set up? I won’t spoil any more of the plot except to point towards other similarities with Borgen such as the prospect of the first female Prime Minister in Denmark.
I found the film to be very entertaining and pleasingly presented in CinemaScope with crisp and sometimes noirish cinematography. The cast is very strong, especially for a first film. As well as Berthelsen and Mikkelsen, I also recognised Lars Brygmann (who suffers a very similar fate to his character of Troels Höxenhaven in Borgen 2), Nicholas Bro (Justice Minister in The Killing II) and our old friend Bjarne Henriksen (Theis in The Killing I and the Defence Minister in Borgen 1 and 2). This time Henriksen plays a crucial role as a television interviewer. The other lead in the film is played by Søren Pilmark who has an impressive CV but doesn’t appear to have been in either of the two serials that have been successful in the UK. The roles for women are not so good in the film and the principal role of a female political leader is played by the director’s sister Nastja Arcel.
It was interesting to see a more ‘cinematic’ presentation than is usually offered by Borgen, but this came mostly via the thriller elements. I missed the family melodrama elements of the serials and it was interesting that one of the best scenes in the film involved Ulrik dealing with his father – in the presence of his wife. This lack of background for the main characters is possibly the main weakness of the script – but then the film is only a 100 minutes or so and much of the time involves the twists and turns of the investigation. The film has also been criticised for the seeming simplicity of the plot and the ease with which the naïve journalist is able to tie things together. Fortunately, Berthelsen is such a good actor that I think we go along with him. His character is also resourceful and determined – which makes an interesting dramatic mix with naiveté.
I’m surprised that I haven’t come across references to Kongekabale in discussions of Borgen. I’m sure that British fans of the TV serial would find it an interesting and enjoyable precursor. Here’s a trailer with English subs:
Posted in Danish Cinema, Nordic Cinema, Politics on film | Tagged: Anders W. Berthelsen, political thriller | Leave a Comment »