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Scandinavian films at the London Film Festival

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The London Film Festival kicks off next month and has announced its full programme, of course packed with many new Nordic films.

For those heading to the festival, here are the films you need to see:

The 60th BFI London Film Festival will take place 5-16 October 2016.

Denmark

The Day Will Come (Der kommer en dag)

Dir. Jesper W. Nielsen / Starring Sofie Gråbøl and Lars Mikkelsen

Read our interview with writer Søren Sveistrup

It’s the late 1960s and Copenhagen is blossoming. With the Space Race at full tilt, it seems there is a world of infinite possibilities and excitement for brothers Elmer and Erik. But their lives are irreparably changed when their mother falls ill and they are entrusted into the care of the archaic Gudbjerg Home for Boys. It’s presided over by brutal headmaster Frederik Heck (Lars Mikkelsen, House of Cards, Sherlock), who sees as his vocation the transformation of ‘unruly’ boys into obedient citizens and maintains a regime of corporal punishment and dubious medical intervention. Elmer’s irrepressible spirit and the appointment of a humbled but humane teacher (Sofie Gråbøl, The Killing) might offer some hope, but fermenting any kind of revolt is dangerous under this vicious regime. Inspired by true events, Søren Sveistrup’s unflinching script addresses the subject of institutional abuse head-on. And the top-notch Scandinavian cast brings intelligence and power to this challenging tale.

 

Those Who Jump (Les Sauteurs)

Malian refugee Abou Bakar Sidibé is camped out with fellow migrants on the top of Mount Gurugu, which overlooks Melilla, the tiny Spanish enclave on northern Africa’s Mediterranean coast. Given a camera by the film’s directors Moritz Siebert and Estephan Wagner, Sidibé documents the daily life of the refugees – the long periods of tedium punctuated by frequent fruitless attempts to jump the fences that separate the land border between Morocco and Spain. But much more is revealed by his filming, not only the hardships but the camaraderie between the migrants – their hopes, aspirations and humour. Contrasting with Sidibé’s intimate footage are the abstract, anonymous thermal images of surveillance cameras tracking the jumpers on their night-time quests to reach the El Dorado of their dreams. Depicting the plight of African refugees from a bold new perspective, Those Who Jump is a testament to their courage and an indictment of the world’s neglect.

The War Show

Dir. Andreas Dalsgaard, Obaidah Zytoon

When peaceful protests against the Assad regime began across Syria in 2011, Obaidah Zytoon was a radio DJ in Damascus. With growing numbers on the streets, she begins to film her friends – Amal, Houssam, Lulu, Hisham, Rabea, Argha – as they journey around the country trying to make sense of the situation, from the capital to Madaya and Obaidah’s hometown of Al-Zabadani. Through the prism of their personal stories, we see the country spiral into armed conflict – from chanting on the streets to the Syrian government’s brutal backlash of death and destruction on a level almost impossible to fathom, and the inevitable development of local armed groups trying to protect their neighbourhoods. Obaidah’s camera is a fearless and unique witness. Bold opener of this year’s Venice Days, this is a devastating film and essential viewing.

Wolf and Sheep

Dir. Shahrbanoo Sadat

Shahrbanoo Sadat’s prize-winning debut feature offers a fresh perspective on life in rural Afghanistan, as seen through the eyes of a hard-working and cheeky group of children. The children’s lives may be governed by the demands of shepherding and a labyrinth of rules, but being more-or-less left to their own devices each day there’s also a lot of fun to be had. Emboldened by machismo and gossipy bitchiness, the children curse and swear their way through the day, aping the petty conflicts of their elders and recounting cautionary tales of punishment and revenge. And, although girls and boys are not meant to mix, outsiders Sediqa and Qodrat find a joyful freedom in their unique friendship. Inspired by personal experience, writer-director Sadat offers an unflinching view of country life and death, peppered with humour and small but sweet observations, whilst carefully weaving in striking references to the community’s richly symbolic and mythical world.

Finland

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Hymyilevä mies)

Dir Juho Kuosmanen / Starring Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff

This delightful low-key drama, shot in gorgeous 16mm black-and-white, tells the story of Olli Mäki, Finland’s hope for the 1962 World Featherweight boxing title. Known as the Baker from Kokkola, Mäki’s small-town life expands quickly when he’s thrust into the media spotlight. At the same time, he falls in love with a local girl. It’s an effective sports biopic, exploring the origins of personal motivation and ramping up a sense of dread as the big match approaches. But rather than offering up a clichéd account of the virtues of small town pleasures versus big city life, the film becomes a charming portrait of an introverted underdog who, though exceptionally gifted at boxing, doesn’t see it as the most important thing in the world. Winning the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, debut director Juho Kuosmanen confidently orchestrates a mood of swooning melancholy that makes the ending even sweeter.

 

Lake Bodom (Bodom)

Dir Taneli Mustonen / Starring Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa William, Mikael Gabriel

Norway

Pyromaniac (Pyromanen)

Dir Erik Skjoldbjærg / Starring Agnes Kittelsen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Trond Nilssen

Nineteen-year-old Dag has returned from military service to live with his parents in the small Norwegian village of Finsland. Introverted and quiet, he seems to sleepwalk through most of the usual interactions of community life. But his seemingly calm exterior hides deep passions, including a hypnotic obsession with fire. This eloquently crafted film, based on a true story, offers a thoughtful take on pyromania with director Erik Skjoldbjærg (Pioneer LFF2013) skilfully balancing the interplay between downbeat tone and flashes of drama. Gösta Reiland’s sweeping cinematography and urgent, hand-held camerawork perfectly capture the visceral beauty and terrifying destructive force of fire. Dag’s rush from igniting his first fire at a local home is powerful yet quietly personal. And as he succumbs to his mania, lighting ever more fires, the village is gripped by fear. Can anyone bear to uncover the unthinkable truth that the pyromaniac might be one of their own?

Magnus

Dir. Benjamin Ree

Current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen is heralded the ‘Mozart of chess’. There is no doubting his prodigious talent. At 19, he became the youngest player to be ranked Number One. He clinched the World Championship title in 2013 just days before his 23rd birthday. His approach to the game is both creative and intuitive and this inspirational documentary charts Carlsen’s path from introverted jigsaw-and-Lego-obsessed young geek to the confident and victorious young man he is today. (With Matt Damon-like good looks to boot!) Drawing on a wealth of family home movies and ten years spent shadowing Carlsen, director Benjamin Ree crafts an incredibly rich film. Tense match footage sequences are coupled with innovative visual interpretations of Carlsen’s moves and game plans. It is also a gently moving film, where natural talent and tenacity are developed by the love and support of Carlsen’s unique family.

Sweden

Stockholm My Love

Dir. Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins and Neneh Cherry team up for this superb ‘is it a doc, or is it fiction’ film. Cherry’s Alva is a character whose life mirrors some broad facts of her own (an artist with an African father and Swedish mother). She’s trapped under the steely grey skies of Stockholm, struggling with debilitating depression, the result (we soon learn) of a traumatic incident a year earlier. Due to give a lecture on the city’s architecture, she bunks off and takes us through the city, exploring buildings, bridges, a cinema, with each place revealing more about her life and state of mind. Taking in the immigrant experience, her relationship with her father, Stockholm’s recent history, we slowly work towards the tragedy, which is devastatingly revealed. Cousins, Cherry and cinematographer Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love and Cousin’s own I Am Belfast) create a visceral, music and poetry-filled exploration of grief, but one that also examines the glorious moments when Alva emerges from that state.

I Called Him Morgan

Dir. Kasper Collin

Helen Morgan shot her common-law husband, the renowned trumpeter Lee Morgan, in a New York jazz club one snowy night in February 1972. He died that night, aged only 33. Before his career was cut short, Lee’s prodigious talent saw him playing alongside greats including Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane, and his recording of The Sidewinder became one of Blue Note’s biggest hits. Helen served time for the crime and following her release retreated into obscurity. Over 20 years later, a chance encounter led her to give a remarkable interview. Helen’s revealing audio ‘testimony’ acts as a refrain throughout director Kasper Collin’s meticulous and deeply resonant film, which draws together a wealth of archive photographs and footage, notable talking heads and delicious jazz recordings. Celebratory yet deeply poignant, Collin’s involving documentary paints a vivid portrait of a legendary artist, an incredible woman and the extraordinary music that brought them together.

 

The Giant (Jätten) pictured

Dir. Johannes Nyholm

Bristling with originality, The Giant defies classification: a mythic story told on a very intimate scale; a sports movie played out to a Western soundtrack; a comedy of melancholy optimistism. From this melting pot of ideas, writer-director Johannes Nyholm crafts the tender and emotionally complex story of Rikard, a severely deformed man with autism. Haunted by the loss of his mother, from whom he was separated as a young child, Rikard believes that she will take him back if he wins the Scandinavian Championship trophy in his beloved sport of pétanque (a form of boules). Although surrounded and supported by an army of loving friends and carers who are unfazed by his condition, from time to time Rikard escapes to an imaginary world where he is a 50-metre tall giant. Marrying dazzlingly beautiful fantasy sequences with quietly moving drama, Nyholm filters Rikard’s world through a distinctive soundscape to create an extraordinarily rich and inventive film.