Nordic Light, which focuses on productions from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Over 20 titles make up the series, including the Academy Award® submissions from these nations, as well as Inuk from Denmark's self-governing island Greenland.
As detailed in PSIFF's press release: "For the Nordic territories, 2012 represented an exceptional year marked by well-deserved kudos going to new talent and familiar faces, culminating in Golden Globe nods for both A Royal Affair and Kon-Tiki. At the Berlinale, A Royal Affair claimed awards for best script and best actor for newcomer Mikkel Boe Følsgaard. At Cannes, Følsgaard's Royal Affair co-star Mads Mikkelsen nabbed the best actor prize for The Hunt, a gripping contemporary morality tale that serves as our Nordic Gala.
"In the fall, too, Nordic pictures continued their winning ways, with Eat Sleep Die from debuting director Gabriela Pichler bagging the audience award at Venice Days and many other awards besides. Another debutant, Mikael Marcimain, landed Toronto's prestigious Discovery Award for his masterful political thriller Call Girl. After screenings in Toronto and Venice, Tobias Lindholm's hostage drama A Hijacking turned into one of the autumn's hot buzz titles."
For this entry I've amplified PSIFF's program capsules with critical overviews, where available.
Call Girl (Dir. Mikael Marcimain, Sweden, 2012, 140m)—Inspired by the 1976 prostitution scandal that led straight to the heart of the Swedish government, Call Girl is a meaty, never sensationalistic political thriller that profits from its slow burn approach. The multi-strand story unfolds against the backdrop of an election season in Stockholm. The politicians are legislating new rights for women even while patronizing underage whores.
Lurking at the center of the plot like some malevolent spider, is busy madam Dagmar Glans (a tour-de-force performance by Pernilla August, clearly reveling in the chance to play a full-blooded but always credible baddie). The clients in her little black book include government officials, foreign ambassadors and criminals. She employs students and housewives in need of ready cash, but she also recruits young teens. Various branches of the police and security service monitor Dagmar's activities; so, too, does a string-pulling government liaison officer. When a devoted young vice sleuth and a retirement-ready homicide cop accumulate evidence to charge her with procurement, not everyone in power welcomes the findings of their investigation. Winner: FIPRESCI Discovery Prize, Toronto Film Festival; Silver Audience Award, Stockholm International Film Festival. IMDb. Facebook. U.S. Premiere.
At Variety, Alissa Simon observes: "Working from a strong script by Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten, Marcimain directs in a confident style, revealing an eye for period detail and a willingness to take time building nuanced characters. Marcimain cut his teeth on several prize-winning TV miniseries and as second unit director on Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, all shot by lenser Hoyte van Hoytema, who does standout widescreen work here. ...The superb craft package perfectly captures the gritty realism of a world where glittery sex clubs exist within a stone's throw of somber government offices, and their respective inhabitants often lie closer." At The Hollywood Reporter, John Defore writes: "Despite a good deal of nudity and the occasional (joyless) sex scene, Marcimain's tone is never sensationalistic. A steady (some will say dry) mood persists, with the behind-closed-doors action making a mockery of the politicians, who are seen on talk shows and the campaign trail congratulating themselves for the government's enlightened policies regarding women's liberation and evolving sexual mores. Design and photography capture the era effectively without kitsch, and an excellent synthesizer-heavy score by Mattias Bärjed supplies a bracing, burbling pulse." At Screen, Anthony Kaufman adds that Call Girl pays "powerful attention to mood, period detail and a damning argument about the hypocrisies of Sweden's liberal politic" but qualifies "the film doesn't satisfy the most basic narrative expectations." On YouTube, Elliot Kotek interviews Marcimain and actor Simon J. Berger.
A Caretaker's Tale / Viceværten (Dir. Katrine Wiedemann, Denmark, 2011, 85m)—This provocative parable centers on the bitter custodian of a grim housing complex and the mute, naked woman with healing sexual powers he discovers in an empty apartment. Playing far better than it describes—and not without humor—this is a controversial drama with exceptional performances that won't be to all tastes but which is certain to generate conversation.
Life doesn't seem particularly rosy for misogynist handyman Per. His wife left him. Their son is a junkie. His back hurts, his neck is stiff and the property he manages requires one dirty job after another. Most nights end over beers with whiny, parasitical neighbor Viborg—until fate throws the girl, like some fallen angel, his way. The screenplay by the prolific, versatile Kim Fupz Aakeson (A Somewhat Gentle Man, PSIFF 2011) walks a fine line between exploitation and creativity, but manages to land on the side of art. He makes the woman a different sort of caretaker, while acclaimed theatre director Katrine Wiedemann avoids any moralizing about the story's unusual premise. Be advised: this film contains explicit sexual scenes that some may find disturbing. IMDb. Facebook [Danish].
The PSIFF program capsule is cribbed from Alissa Simon's Variety review. At Nisimazine, Eirini Nikopoulou comments: "Despite Lars Mikkelsen's overwhelming performance which distinctively commands us to delve into the leading character's soul, we will never learn whether Per will love her in sickness and in health. Because this film is not about true love's final destination but about its power to transform anyone who is brave enough to experience it." At the Danish Film Institute (DFI) website, a synopsis and statement by Wiedemann are available for download. At their festival publication FILM, they've also published an interview with Wiedemann.
Curling King / Kong Curling (Dir. Ole Endresen, Norway, 2011, 75m)—When asked why he loved curling so much, a Canadian friend deadpanned, "It's the only sport where you can keep your beer cold just by putting it down." The country's different but the underlying sense of the absurd is the same in Norwegian Ole Endresen's hilarious debut, a comedy about sweeping and throwing rocks that knowingly turns the tropes of the "sports comeback" movie on their collective heads. Some critics have even mentioned The Big Lebowski and the films of Wes Anderson as points of comparison…
A decade ago, Truls Paulson (Atle Antonsen, perfect as a charming slob) ruled the ice as Norway's most obsessive curling champion—so obsessive, in fact, that his finicky ways led to institutionalization. After release, he begins a life of quiet desperation, enduring the imprecations of a bossy wife by losing himself in mundane TV. Until, that is, a friend in need calls him back to the rink. Will anything—his marriage, his sanity, his professional pride—survive this risky return? Director Endresen and actor Antonsen answer this question in high comic style. IMDb. Facebook.
The Deep / Djúpið (Dir. Baltasar Kormákur, Iceland, 2012, 95m)—This real-life survival tale offers a powerful, authentically elemental depiction of an incident that still haunts the Icelandic psyche. When rust-bucket fishing trawler Breki put out to sea in March 1984 an accident with the trawl caused the boat to capsize in rough waters. The entire crew was swept overboard into the cold, dark Atlantic. To the horror of shy, paunchy 20-something Gulli, the others, including his best friend Palli, quickly succumb to the elements. Calmed and comforted by the seagull wheeling above him, Gulli swims and talks, telling the bird about the unfinished business that he wishes that he could live to complete. He miraculously survives six hours in the freezing ocean, ultimately reaching safety.
"At the end of Kormákur's masterful blend of sound and fury, the real-life fisherman tells national television, 'No one is really bothered by this thing happening.' Thing? In typical Icelandic fashion, he downplays his unique personal experience; like his character in the film, Gulli is much more at home talking about the fate of his mates." (Howard Feinstein, Screen International). IMDb. Wikipedia. U.S. Premiere.
World premiering at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Kormákur's The Deep was selected as the Icelandic entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, and achieved the January shortlist. At Tales of OdieNary Madness, the "Odienator" offers up Kormákur's introductory comments from the TIFF premiere. At Entertainment Weekly, Solvej Schou interviews Kormákur. At Iceland Review, Sveinn Birkir Björnsson does the honors.
Eat Sleep Die / Äta sova dö (Dir. Gabriela Pichler, Sweden, 2012, 104m)—Gabriela Pichler, the daughter of a Bosnian and an Austrian, stresses the reality of contemporary Europe in her first feature as writer / director. Eat Sleep Die takes place in rural southern Sweden where lively, spontaneous Rasa Abdulahovic (a vivacious turn from Nermina Lukac) spends her evenings looking after her worn-out father and socializing with her fellow workers from the vegetable packing plant. Rasa can pack 12 bags of lettuce in 45 seconds, but when it's time for the factory cut staff, she is one of first to go.
Without a job, Rasa is forced into an odd world where bureaucracy rules and "confidence coaching" is deemed imperative. Her sense of disorientation and loss of purpose increases when her beloved father goes to Norway to find work. The small-town life that she is clinging to just seems to be getting smaller. She begins to realize that there is a bigger world out there and ultimately she will have to face it. Winner: Audience Award, Venice Film Festival Critics' Week; Grand Jury Prize (New Auteurs), AFI; Best Actress and Golden Giraldillo, Seville European Film Festival. IMDb.
At Fandor, Dave Hudson has highlighted the critical response from Venice and Toronto. I might add James McNally's Toronto Screen Shots characterization of Eat Sleep Die as "a portrait of working-class life that feels documentary-like in its realism, but with real warmth between its characters." McNally hails Lukac's performance as "remarkable" and adds: "Playing this rough tomboy with a herculean work ethic, she's nothing short of magnetic, especially in her reactions to the drudgery of unemployment and the inanity of the local job center's efforts to help." McNally generously provides his recording of Pichler's TIFF Q&A. At Flickering Myth, Oliver Davis concurs: "The film is so naturalistic—with its handheld camera, location shooting and lack of recognizable faces—that everything works like a poetic documentary. There are definitely subtexts of immigration, xenophobia and recession if you're in the market for them. But on first viewing, the characters—even Pappan—are harmlessly absorbing." At The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Farber writes: "The director may rely too heavily on her handheld camera, but this technique gives the film unmistakable energy that keeps us involved throughout Rasa's turbulent journey."
Either Way / A´ annan veg (Dir. Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Iceland, 2011, 85m)—Two highway maintenance men in the barren wilderness of 1980s Iceland find themselves at a literal and figurative crossroads in this terrifically endearing comedy. Serious thirty-something Finnbogi (played by co-writer Svein Ólafur Gunnarsson) wants to use his spare time to improve himself. Meanwhile, his younger, hot-to-trot brother-in-law Alfred would prefer to drive hours to civilization and go clubbing. At first, they gall each other as they paint white stripes on the roadway far from other human contact. But ultimately their barely civil tolerance evolves into real friendship as they support each other through romantic travails. The gorgeous visuals favor long takes, wide frames and moving shots that allow the acting to carry the story. Incidentally, director David Gordon Green is working on the U.S. remake. Winner: Best Film, Torino Film Festival; Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography and Costume Design, Edda Awards. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
At Variety, Alissa Simon writes: "Wisely employing the harshly beautiful landscape as the third principal character, tyro helmer Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson highlights human vulnerability and the struggle to create something meaningful and lasting."
A Hijacking / Kapringen (Dir. Tobias Lindholm, Denmark, 2012, 110m)—What a year it has been for Tobias Lindholm. This spring, The Hunt, a film he co-scripted with Thomas Vinterberg was one of the Cannes Film Festival's best-received competitors. In the fall, his second film as director, the tense thriller A Hijacking, turned into one of the buzz titles at the Venice Film Festival. The William Morris agency just signed to represent him and the film keeps collecting festival prizes.
When Somali pirates board a Danish cargo ship and demand a ransom for the safe passage of the crew, the shipping company CEO rashly decides to handle the negotiations himself—after all, he reasons, he's a cut-throat deal-maker by trade. His confidence is not shared by the hostages as days in cramped, increasingly fetid confinement drag into weeks with no release in sight. Lindholm's low-key, documentary style makes their dilemma all too believable. This is impressive, gripping moviemaking straight from the news headlines. Winner: Best Film, Thessaloniki Film Festival; Best Actor, Abu Dhabi Film Festival; Audience Award, AFI. IMDb. Wikipedia.
At Variety, Guy Lodge asserts: "Hostage thrillers are all-too-often shrill affairs, with clock-watching screenwriters wringing maximum melodrama from spiraling disorder. Not so Tobias Lindholm's superb A Hijacking, which actually grows more chillingly subdued as its nightmare scenario unfolds. A fictional but sweatily plausible account of a Danish cargo ship ambushed by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, which alternates between tensions onboard and in the Copenhagen negotiation chamber, it's a formidable sophomore feature from the already accomplished writer-helmer." At The Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young adds: "Lindholm again collaborates with key personnel from R [aka R—Hit First, Hit Hardest, (2010)], chiefly cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck and editor Adam Nielsen, in a production which exudes impressively steely control on all levels. We shift back and forth between the sleekly modern Copenhagen office-suites and the Rozen, the below-decks atmosphere on the craft turning miasmic as the men cope without access to basic hygiene facilities." At Screen Daily, Mark Adams deems A Hijacking "a masterful exercise in building the tension, never resorting to quick dramatic tricks and keeping the tone appropriately serious as the clock keeps on ticking." At FILM, Per Juul Carlsen interviews Tobias Lindholm.
The Hunt / Jagten (Dir. Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 2012, 111m)—A parent's prime responsibility must be to protect his or her child. The same goes for a school and its pupils; a community and its children. So when first one, then another, and finally several infants all imply that kindergarten teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a pedophile, he's immediately ostracized, a pariah in the small town where he himself grew up and made a life. Only one thing, though: the charges are false, the result of a single, silly lie that spins far out of control and contaminates the perception of anyone it touches.
In his most successful film since The Celebration, Dogme co-founder Thomas Vinterberg remorselessly turns the screws on Lucas, showing how easily public opinion can embrace the blood lust of a lynch mob, and testing how even a fundamentally good man responds to such malignant stress. This probing psychological drama is as gripping and cathartic as any thriller, with a searing performance from Mikkelsen at its core. Winner: Best Actor and Ecumenical Prize, Cannes Film Festival. IMDb. Wikipedia.
Lots has been written on this film and Dave Hudson has gathered up the best of the Cannes coverage at Fandor. Also at Fandor, Sean Axmaker admits The Hunt had him "knotted up in anxiety and frustration"; but, also had him reflecting "on the far more ambiguous and complicated reality of Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans, elements of which The Hunt clearly appropriated." At Twitch, Kurt Halfyard proposes: "When I see the Zentropa logo come up in front of a film, my knee-jerk reaction is that the film will be a provocation. After all, Lars von Trier is not only one of the co-founders of the company that deals in that sort of cinema, but he created the Dogme95 movement with Vinterberg as well. ...The curious thing about the picture is that despite it being an act of empathy for Lucas, even if his only flaw is casual aloofness, it is equally a savage attack on all the women in town. ...If von Trier turns his women (Antichrist notwithstanding) into otherworldly martyrs, Vinterberg seems to be aiming for shrews. ...I cannot wait to read the inevitable Women's Studies PhD thesis on this movie. Zentropa does it again!" DFI offers an interview with Vinterberg and profiles Mads Mikkelsen.
The Hypnotist / Hypnotisören (Dir. Lasse Hallström, Sweden, 2012, 122m)—Based on the international bestseller by Lars Kepler, the first in a series featuring Detective Inspector Joona Linna, this dose of Nordic noir from director Lasse Halström (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, PSIFF 2012) marks his first Swedish production in 24 years.
In the middle of a dark December night, psychiatrist Erik Maria Bark (Mikael Persbrandt, In a Better World, Everlasting Moments) receives a call from a hospital in Stockholm. DI Linna (Tobias Zilliacus) needs him to communicate with an unconscious youth through hypnosis, enabling the police to question him. They must learn who brutally murdered his parents and younger sister, in order to track down and save his older sister before it is too late. It has been ten years since Erik last practiced hypnosis, and he promised never to do it again. When he finally allows himself to be persuaded, a violent and inexplicable course of events starts to impact his life and his family. IMDb. Wikipedia. North American Premiere.
At The Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young's bottom line is: "Lasse comes home—but Mr Hallström's clumsily plotted Swedish policier is more lukewarm than chilling." At Variety, Boyd van Hoeij expands: "What Hallström brings to the table is a solid direction of the actors and several gorgeous, high-angle shots that firmly place the story in its Swedish context, particularly Stockholm. But his work with rookie feature cinematographer Mattias Montero is otherwise just OK, allowing a lot of light into the lens and often flattening the picture, with a subsequent loss of detail in the darker areas. Editing by Thomas Tang and Sebastian Amundsen is uneven at best; the rapid, disorientating cuts used to signify flashbacks or visions stand in jarring contrast to the otherwise unenergetic approach to the material. Score is serviceable but pretty character-free." At Movie City News, Dave Poland conducts a video interview with Hallström.
I Belong / Som du Ser Meg (Dir. Dag Johan Haugerud, Norway, 2012, 117m)—First time director Dag Haugerud has a distinctive way of observing human beings and the dilemmas that daily life offers. Playful and nuanced, I Belong is an extremely Norwegian tragicomedy about three women who have a small soft-spot in their personality, and are hit hard when their idiosyncrasies meet the light of day.
A nurse gets into a dispute at work because she switches to speaking English when she gets nervous. A translator compromises her integrity when persuaded to translate a book she doesn't believe in. A financially struggling elderly woman and her daughter are humiliated when a well-to-do relative offers a gift of one million kroner. I Belong shows how what may seem like something of little importance to one person can seem like a grand disaster to another. It's about people who mean well, but end up hurting one another. And about how those who act on integrity and feelings are seen as troublesome in a society where the ideal is to behave rationally. IMDb. North American Premiere.
Inuk (Dir. Mike Magidson, Greenland, 2010, 90m)—It's rare enough to see a film from the frozen country of Greenland, but to see one as accomplished and visually exciting as Mike Magidson's coming-of-age drama is a pleasure indeed. Magidson makes thrilling use of sweeping vistas and wide-open snowy landscapes in this eco-friendly tale of one teenaged boy's coming to terms with his Inuit heritage.
As a child, Inuk (played as a teen by newcomer Gaba Petersen) witnessed his father's death in a tragic dog-sledding accident. Since then he has lived with his increasingly alcoholic mother in the capital, Nuuk, cut off from his former life in the wilds. When social services finally steps in, Inuk finds himself living near his traditional home and paired up with taciturn hunter Ikuma (Ole Jørgen Hammeken), whose attachment to the land and knowledge of traditional ways offer a glimpse of a different life for the troubled teen. Harnessing the dogs, the odd couple embarks on a seal-hunting expedition (a visceral sequence handled with style and verve by Magidson) and Inuk comes face-to-face with his past. Winner: Best Film, Director, Editing, Savannah Film Festival. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
At Variety, Jay Weissberg writes: "U.S. helmer Magidson and French co-scripter Jean-Michel Huctin aim to touch on multiple interconnected themes, encompassing not just changing lifestyles and personal tragedy but global warming as well. While the pic at times feels as if it's trying too hard to incorporate all the expected hot-button topics, it generally manages to does so without feeling overly preachy. The bare-bones outline is more or less a template shared with other films about indigenous peoples, yet Inuk still reps an appealing, well-crafted look at a little-seen community."
Jackpot / Arme Riddere (Dir. Magnus Martens, Norway, 2011, 90m)—Tightly scripted by director Magnus Martens from a story by Nordic noir maestro Jo Nesbø (Headhunters, PSIFF 2012), this blackly comic caper unspools at a rollicking pace. Opening with a literal bang and filled with jaw-dropping twists, the story alternates between the investigation of a messy crime scene at stripper bar Pink Heaven and flashbacks showing how sole survivor Oscar wound up there, bloody and terrified, beneath a fat woman's corpse.
In small town Norway, near the Swedish border, Oscar supervises troublesome ex-cons as they produce artificial Christmas trees. When he joins three of his charges in a soccer betting pool, the quartet defies the odds and winds up with a winning ticket. But given the personalities involved, it stands to reason that the multi-million kronor payout won't be split four ways, and that the factory's wood chipper and nail gun will be put to nefarious use. Cinephiles and thriller fans will delight in this stylish and fast-paced action-comedy, with its spot-on performances, inspired albeit gruesome gags, crack comic timing and barbed dialogue. IMDb.
I first heard about Jackpot at last Summer's Fantasia Film Festival, where it was included in a spotlight on Danish and Norwegian film. For their program note, Kevin LeForest enthuses that Jackpot "keeps hitting you over the head with beer bottles, throwing severed body parts in your face and splashing blood all over you, yet all the while, you can't help but grin or downright laugh out loud. Martens's film, which is also genuinely suspenseful at times, benefits greatly from flamboyant cinematography, sharp editing and shrewdly used music." The music alone commits Jackpot to offbeat Christmas programming. PSIFF's program note is cribbed from Alissa Simon's Variety review. At The Hollywood Reporter, John Defore expects Jackpot to attract remake-rights attention but cautions, "success with such worn-out tropes would be tough to replicate, especially considering how much entertainment value comes via idiosyncratic performances from its Norwegian cast." Specifically, "a wry, skeptical performance out of Henrik Mestad (as the detective investigating the murders) that's so off-kilter we don't need Fargo allusions—a gag with the recycling plant's plastic-shredder one-ups that film's wood-chipper scene—to tell us how seriously, or not, to take the action." At Slant, Nick Schraeger dismisses the project as "a wannabe-early-[Guy]-Ritchie effort, full of colorful miscreants, seedy milieus, sex and profanity, and quick-cut flashbacks and narrative focus jumps from one nefarious character to another. ...Feigning both fatalistic cynicism and happily-ever-after hopefulness in equal measure, it's merely a grim retread cast in a two-decade-old mold."
Kon-Tiki (Dirs. Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg, Norway, 2012, 118m)—More than half a century ago, young Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl became one of history's most famous men with the Kon-Tiki voyage, an astonishing journey of 4300 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean on a balsawood raft. His filmed record of the journey won the Academy Award in 1950. But it didn't tell the whole story…
A handsome and charismatic figure, Heyerdahl developed a theory that Polynesia had been settled by peoples travelling east from South America, not west from Asia as previously thought. No one in the scientific community took him seriously. After an American professor joked he should try sailing from Peru to Polynesia on a balsawood raft, Heyerdahl realized that is what he must do. Christening his raft Kon-Tiki after a sun god, Heyerdahl set sail with five daring crew. Only one knew how to sail. Even though he was afraid of water and couldn’t swim, Heyerdahl was willing to sacrifice everything and everyone to prove himself right. This gripping true-life adventure tale from the directing team behind PSIFF favorite Max Manus is Norway's most lavish feature film to date. Official site [Norwegian]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
At the L.A. Weekly, Michael Nordine writes: "Like a lot of historical reenactments, it's often concerned with demonstrating what an exceptional fellow its protagonist was, which doesn't help convince us that he might not survive the Ahabic excursion he's imposed upon himself. Just because we already know the destination doesn't mean the journey shouldn't be as exciting as possible." At The Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden adds: "This retelling of a bare-bones enterprise by six men took a crew of hundreds, and the results are nothing if not polished, with handsome period detail and visual effects that are convincing, if sometimes ostentatious. The widescreen lensing (the film was shot mainly in and around Malta) doesn't overdo the sense of wonder and, with a strong assist from the sound design, conveys the men's vulnerability to the elements. But too often the directors ride the surface rather than plumb the story's depths, relying on a score by Johan Söderqvist that abounds in obvious cues. Those signals of danger and grandeur emphasize the otherwise streamlined script's heavy-handed lapses." YouTube sports the film's AFI Q&A session.
The Last Sentence / Dom Over Dod Man (Dir. Jan Troell, Sweden, 2012, 125m)—From the director of PSIFF audience favorite Everlasting Moments comes a dramatic and poetic true story about a man who could not be silenced. The Last Sentence weaves together a psychologically insightful love story with a portrayal of the tenuous political situation neutral Sweden found itself in during the Second World War, and proves that at 81, the esteemed filmmaker Jan Troell is still at the height of his powers.
Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen) was one of the leading journalists in Sweden in the 20th century. As managing editor of the Gothenburg economic daily Handelstidningen, he fought a one-man battle against Adolf Hitler and fascism throughout the war years. It was a difficult fight, only made possible because of his reputation, the power of his conviction and the fact that he had friends in high places, not least among them his lover, the Jewish intellectual Maja Forssman (another tour de force performance from Pernilla August), the wife of his publisher. Exquisitely filmed in black and white, The Last Sentence continues Troell's mission to illuminate history. Winner: Best Director, Montreal World Film Festival; Best Actress (Pernilla August), Chicago Film Festival. Trust Nordisk site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
At Ferdy on Films, Marilyn Ferdinand comments that "this story offers a wonderful example of how necessary a truly free press peopled with brave journalists who will speak truth to power is to creating a just world." She adds: "The Last Sentence is punctuated with war news that has the effect of coming as news flashes that immediately recede into the background as the drama of Torgny's domestic affairs take center stage, yet there is a subtle parallel between the macro and micro in the film. Sweden faces subjugation not only from Nazi Germany but also Soviet Russia when the Red Army invades Finland. A panicked populace hangs onto its gossamer-thin lifeline of neutrality."
Liv & Ingmar / Liv og Ingmar (Dir. Dheeraj Akolkar, Norway, 2012, 83m)—Radiant Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann reflects on her relationship with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman in this personal documentary. The film mixes Ullmann's candid reminiscences and voice-over narration (extracts from her book Changing) with clips from Bergman's films, passages from his love letters to her and luscious archival photos and footage.
Ullmann (at the time a shy 25) first met Bergman, then 46, on the set of his film Persona in 1965. Although both were married to others at the time, their attraction was powerful and immediate. In his letters, Bergman called them "painfully connected." Ullmann left her husband and went to live on Fårø Island with Bergman, later bearing him a daughter. Their fraught affair ended five years later, but their breathtakingly fruitful collaboration and friendship continued until the end of his life. In all, she acted in 12 of his films and directed two of his screenplays. (Ullmann is also featured in this year's suspense drama Two Lives.) Official site. IMDb. Facebook.
At The Hollywood Reporter, John Defore writes: "One of cinema's most significant romances is eulogized with reverence in Dheeraj Akolkar's Liv & Ingmar, which might more rightly be titled Liv on Liv & Ingmar. Cinephiles of a certain age (and younger ones with tastes shaped by the Criterion Collection) will lap it up, and Hallvard Bræin's cinematography is certainly lush enough to justify a big-screen run before the doc gets to video." At The Independent, Kurt Brokaw adds: "Ullmann has fashioned a stellar later life for herself, not only writing and directing but as a traveling UNICEF goodwill ambassador, as the founder and co-chair of the Women’s Refugee Commission, and as the recipient of an honorary PhD from the Norwegian University of Science And Technology. Unlike Ingrid Bergman, whose star was tarnished when she left a marriage for Rossellini, Ullmann's decision to leave her first husband for Bergman may have been lost in the mists of time; it seems unimportant to the actress now. But as Woody [Allen] reminds us, hearts still want what hearts still want, whether in 1949, 1966, or today. Both Ingrid and Liv took their chances, with very different results." Frank Digiacomo interviews Ullmann for Movieline. Bilge Ebiri does the honors for Vulture. At WNYC, Leonard Lopate interviews both Ullmann and Akolkar, as does Melissa Silverstein for Indiewire. On YouTube, David James Friend conducts a video interview with Akolkar.
Marie Krøyer (Dir. Bille August, Denmark, 2012, 103m)—This exquisite-looking period romance is the first Danish feature film in two decades by the Oscar®-winning director Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror; The Best Intentions). Regarded as the most beautiful woman in Denmark in the early 20th century, Marie [Krøyer] was a muse for her husband, the renowned (but mentally ill) painter P.S. Krøyer. They lived in remote Skagen where numerous artists gathered, attracted by the exceptional light and natural scenery.
An artist herself, Marie finds frustratingly little time to develop her talent since she is torn between serving as her husband's favorite model and sometime nurse, homemaker and caring mother to their young daughter. Exhausted by her husband's manic episodes, Marie visits Sweden where composer Hugo Alfvén's dashing looks, admiring words and sexual charisma sweep her off her feet. Since the possessive Krøyer won't agree to a divorce, they try a disastrous menage-à-trois in Skagen. But when Marie abandons her life and social status in Denmark to follow her love to his native land, her dreams are thwarted. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook [Danish].
The Danish Film Institute (DFI)'s festival publication FILM offers an interview with August, and another with producer Signe Leick Jensen.
Purge / Puhdistus (Dir. Antti Jokinen, Finland, 2012, 125m)—This gripping adaptation of the prize-winning novel of the same title by Sofi Oksanen looks at the legacy of Soviet oppression in the Baltic nation of Estonia through a sprawling tale of sex trafficking, abuse and betrayal. Two women from different eras are dogged by their own shameful pasts and the dark, unspoken history that binds them.
It is 1994 and the Soviet Occupation has finally ended. A lonely, secretive, suspicious old lady, Aliide has experienced the horrors of the Stalinist period and the deportation of Estonians to Siberia. One night she finds a disheveled, scantily dressed girl collapsed in her yard. It is Zara, who has just escaped from the iron grip of the Russian mafia who held her as a sex slave. As the histories of these two women emerge, we witness the culmination of a tragic family drama of rivalry, lust, and loss. Note: This film has disturbing scenes of violence against women. Official site [Finnish]. IMDb. Wikipedia. North American Premiere.
At The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Dalton writes: "Purge is a gripping and polished hybrid of contemporary thriller and historical melodrama. It features two interwoven plots: one set in post-Communist Estonia, the other during the brutal early years of Soviet occupation at the end of World War II. ...Jokinen's historical horror story is ultimately less concerned with conflict between nations than with the unending war waged by cruel men against vulnerable women. It is superior gothic melodrama at heart, but feels true enough to have real emotional bite." If Dalton has any complaint, it is that cinematographer Rauno Ronkainen's "visuals may even be too aestheticized in places—scenes of mass execution, torture and rape should not look this pretty."
Road North / Tie Pohjoiseen (Dir. Mika Kaurismäki, Finland, 2012, 110m)—A prodigal father returns to Helsinki to reconnect with the son he abandoned 35 years earlier and con him into a journey towards the Arctic Circle in this jaunty comedy. Overweight and shambling but still charismatic, Leo (Finnish national treasure Vesa-Matti Loiri) has lived to pursue pleasure, always fleeing when he encountered problems. Now, as he nears the end of his metaphoric road, he wants to patch up all the potholes, although in his own unconventional, not necessarily legal way.
His son Timo is a concert pianist, and seems to be Leo's polar opposite: uptight, bound by rules, appointments and a constantly buzzing cell-phone. But out on the highway in the red Catalina convertible that Leo steals for the ride, Timo soon proves a chip off the old block. Director Mika Kaurismäki's best films have dealt with music or road trips. Road North combines both elements along with plenty of heart and was one of Finland's biggest box office hits of the past year. IMDb. Facebook [Finnish].
PSIFF's program capsule is cribbed from Alissa Simon's Variety review. At The Hollywood Reporter, John Defore writes: "The script, cowritten by Kaurismäki and Sami Keski-Vähälä, makes a predictable arc from small revelations to large ones, with breaks for comic mishaps and even a genuinely charming musical number. But while there's a mission behind the trip, Kaurismäki stands at arm's length from clichés about emotional self-discovery and learning to love that which irritates us." Road North is already available for DVD rental from Netflix.
A Royal Affair / En kongelig affaere (Dir. Nikolaj Arcel, Denmark, 2012, 137m)—This compelling, character-driven costume drama illuminates a fascinating chapter in Danish history. British princess Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander, Kitty in Anna Karenina) arrives at the Danish court in 1766 as a naive teen bride, but she is crushed to discover that King Christian is mentally unstable and easily manipulated by the scheming Dowager Queen.
A reformist faction arranges the appointment of Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German intellectual from the provinces, as physician to the pious court. His enlightened methods soothe the troubled king, who makes him his confidant and, eventually, chief minister. Caroline, too, warms to the visionary doctor. Soon they're sharing more than books—and rapidly proposing reforms that benefit peasants and serfs at the expense of the nobility. Although rumors of their intimacy outrages the court, the idealistic Struensee fails to see that it is his challenge to entrenched interests that will spell his downfall. Winner: Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Berlin Film Festival. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
At the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert writes: "The principles of the Enlightenment, which would inspire the French Revolution, first took practical shape in Denmark in the 18th century. The books and ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau arrived there under the arm of Dr. Johann Struensee, a German physician who was hired to care for the young King Christian VII, and eventually took very good care indeed of his comely new queen from Britain, Queen Caroline Mathilde. ... Nikolaj Arcel, the director, makes good use of locations in Prague, everybody's favorite backdrop for a historical European city, and the players and costumes make this look like a historical romance. It's ever so much more, as we discover in scenes that bracket the main action, revealing the tensions and dangers experienced by the brave young queen. Is it too much to suspect that she carried on her affair for reasons of idealism, not lust?" At Variety, Alissa Simon opines: "Surprisingly the first fiction film to treat this subject, A Royal Affair (as scripted by Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg) try but don't always succeed in balancing this epic love story with political thriller elements as they pack more than five years' worth of momentous events into slightly more than two hours." At Indiewire, Leonard Maltin adds: "Director Nikolaj Arcel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, stages the action in a brisk, modern mode that makes A Royal Affair easily digestible and satisfying." At The New York Times, A.O. Scott suggests otherwise: "Though A Royal Affair is programmatically committed to modernity—to the banishment of superstition and religious authority, to the rule of law and the supremacy of reason—it is in almost every way a decidedly old-fashioned film. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Stately, stagy expositions of history have their place in the world of entertainment, and the acting is both solid and agile, communicating the feelings of passionate people in a passionate time. But the movie also succumbs to many of the vices of the period film: didacticism, excessive length and the tendency to read history as a set of moral diagrams." At FILM, Per Juul Carlsen interviews Arcel.
This Life—Some Must Die, So Others Can Live / Hvidstengruppen—Nogel må dø for at andre kan leve (Dir. Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis, Denmark, 2012, 122m)—Germany occupies Denmark on April 9, 1940. Although the Danish government decides to cooperate with the occupying forces, some citizens actively resist. Based on fact, This Life tells the story of the Hvidsten group, comprised of ordinary men and women from a village in eastern Jutland who received and hid agents and supplies dropped by British aircrafts. Rivaling the big budget resistance epic Flame & Citron as a Danish box office phenomenon, this intimate, affecting historical drama maintains a tone of simple dignity and national pride. It's an auspicious directorial debut for actress Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis (best known here for von Trier's The Idiots).
When innkeeper Marius Fiil first organizes a local network to pick up and conceal the men and materiel parachuted in, the risk seems negligible and the work a thrilling adventure. His son, son-in-law and daughters all participate, along with the vet, the miller, a mechanic, and some farmers. But events eventually take a grimmer turn. Bring plenty of tissues! Winner: Audience Award, Hamburg Film Festival. IMDb. North American Premiere.
The PSIFF program capsule is, once again, cribbed from Alissa Simon's Variety review, wherein she expands: "Although the screenplay by Ib Kastrup, Jorgen Kastrup and Torvald Lervad lacks nuance at times, with dialogue heavily foreshadowing events, it achieves considerable poignancy by underscoring the beliefs of a more innocent era. The protagonists discover far too late just what the Reich was capable of. Helmer Bjarup Riis's great achievement is to keep this all from playing as melodrama. She creates and maintains a tone of simple dignity and national pride, worthy of the words written by the prisoners to their families, which are used to heartbreaking effect near the pic's end. Thesping tends toward the one-note but is nonetheless effective." On Vimeo, Cineuropa profiles Bjarup Riis as one of Variety's 10 directors to watch.