Bitter Comedies and Amusing Tragedies Aplenty on the Big Screen

Nordic films in Hungarian distribution in 2015
By Mónika Bajnóczi


Anytime we look at the Hungarian box office results, there is a huge chance we’ll find that some trendy blockbuster from overseas has the highest numbers. Even when offering a wide range of high quality European movies, art house cinemas sadly don’t stand a chance to attract as many people as the newest comic book movie. Fortunately, there’s a smaller, but keen (and hopefully growing) audience of our national productions and art films in general, including Nordic films too. Hungarian film distributors seemingly realized this and in 2015 they’ve made a top-notch line-up of the most interesting titles out there, covering well-known directors’ recent works, winners of prominent awards, relaxing comedies and bloodstained thrillers as well.

One of the latest premieres was Rams (Hrútar), proving that good things come to those who wait. Without any doubt, Grímur Hákonarson’s movie is amongst the most masterfully written and cinematographed works lately, where words and pictures are equally important in telling a touching story about the relationship of men and nature. Knowing the fact that Sturla Brandth Grøvlen was the cinematographer of this year’s one-take wonder Victoria, it’s not so surprising that Rams is also brilliantly composed with all the breathtaking Icelandic landscapes, and close ups of men and animals who unalterably depend on each other on these lands.

Having earned great success in its homeland, Baldvin Z’s second feature also increased the Icelandic presence in Hungarian cinemas, but unfortunately remained quite unnoticed. With its three interlocking storylines of people facing difficulties, Life in a Fishbowl (Vonarstrati) looks at contemporary society with exceptional sensitivity, unveiling the gap between the surface and the characters’ real self. A month later Dagur Kári’s lovely and unusual coming of age story was a silver lining. After attending the film’s premiere during the “Mozinet Filmnapok” (a screening series organized by the distributor), Gunnar Jónsson said that “the best comedy is the darkest tragedy”. It’s a rather appropriate definition for Virgin Mountain (Fúsi) that bravely speaks about mental disorder while melting our hearts by its clumsy but deeply empathetic hero.

A Pigeon Sat on a Bra

Another big favorite of the year was A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt pa en gren och funderade pa tillvaron) which is expected to win more awards than the already granted „movie with the longest title of the year”. Sweden’s entry for this years’ Oscar race is the last part of Roy Andersson’s “Living trilogy” [the other two was Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger från andra våningen) and You, the Living (Du levande)], lining up short sketches once again to meditate about the absurdity of mundane situations with a morbid sense of humor. We also had some strange kind of fun watching Here Is Harold (Her er Harold) and 1001 Grams (1001 Gram), both being a bit odd but still lovable. Tradition and progression collide in Gunnar Vikene’s black comedy when Harold, who’s been selling furniture for four decades, comes up with the idea of kidnapping the founder of IKEA for ruining his business. Alongside kidnapper businessmen, Norway also have pretty scientist like Ane Dahl Torp in Bent Hamer’s movie, which deals with the actual weight of kilo and the value of love. Sounds like a weird pairing and it is indeed, but this thought-provoking story told by a touching character development was one of the highlights of the year.

Speaking of comedies, the summer came with two lightweight movies ideal for relaxing between trips to the beach – especially for single moms. Both in Medicinen and in All Inclusive the story is built around an aging mom who’s unable to truly accept that she’s not that young anymore, but they also prove the fact that love (and lust!) exist even after the 60th birthday. While Johanna is hoping for a change by trying a new medicine, Lise choose to take a little break and go on a vacation with her two daughters to Malta. What makes All Inclusive interesting is the director Hella Joof’s female perspective of the issues of growing old and the deep understanding of the troubles within an all-female family. The rivalry between the two sisters with completely different world views ends up in fairly comical situations, presenting how to make a simple but great romantic comedy.

Silent Heart

One of the most heart-breaking movies of the year, Silent Heart (Stille hjerte) had competing sisters as well, starring Danica Curcic as the rebellious daughter once again, but this time instead of arranging her mother a date, she spends the last weekend with her before the woman commits suicide. Like All Inclusive, Bille August’s movie is about the difficulties of different generations and family members with different ideology living together, but Silent Heart is a slow-paced, well-structured drama which is driven by the inner mental processes of the characters and ends up in a cathartic finale.

Besides the original screenplays, Hungarian cinemas have had their fair share of novel adaptations this year again. In terms of strong and independent heroines, we had two excellent Danish director adapting romantic melodramas to screen, but even with importing well-known actors into the beautiful rural scenery, neither Thomas Vinterberg’s nor Susanne Bier’s latest foreign feature turned out quite well. Even if Far From the Madding Crowd could easily conquer the hearts of ladies longing for the attention that Bathsheba Everdene gets from three men at once, the dazzling costumes and set design wasn’t enough to make Vinterberg’s Thomas Hardy adaptation interesting. Torn between tradition, passion and love, Carey Mulligan’s indecisive mistress quickly becomes more irritating than fierce, and this classical love quadrangle holds just as much tense as looking at the grazing sheep or the rising sun on the horizon. Not like Bier’s Ron Rash adaptation starring America’s sweethearts in their third movie together. Even when being a bit hysterical and a bit manipulative femme fatale, Jennifer Lawrence in Serena is charming as always while wrapping Bradley Copper’s distressed character around her little finger. But while Vinterberg’s movie ends with walking holding hands into the sunset, Bier’s “romantic slasher” finishes the chase between the hunter and the prey in a more satisfying way – but not enough to make critics applause.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series’ new episode, The Absent One (Fasandræberne) was a well deserved treat for the lovers of Scandinavian crime stories. After The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden i buret), Carl Mørck and Assad face with a sadistic millionaire trying to keep a dark stain in his past as a secret. Mikkel Nørgaard and his crew this time took the thrilling effects to a next level by using more daring cinematic language and the actors’ excellent performances. The series will continue next year with another episode, A Conspiracy of Faith (Flaskepost fra P), directed by Hans Petter Moland.

There are other titles announced which we looking forward to see in 2016. Hungary’s number-one distributor for Scandinavian cinema will release Joachim Trier’s Palme d’Or nominee Louder than Bombs and also Tobias Lindholm’s military drama A War (Krigen), not to mention Anders Thomas Jensen’s long waited black comedy Men & Chicken (Mænd & høns). Hopefully there are more titles like these to come, and if distributors will keep gifting us with such quality movies, there’s a great chance we’ll spend the next year sitting in front of big screens too.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.