When the Finnish do their own version of Romper Stomper, complete with shaven-headed neo-Nazis fighting to keep their country white, they do it in their own particular way – with comedy.
Finnish actress Laura Birn, who is visiting Australia for the first Scandinavian Film Festival, plays a sassy waitress whose skinhead boyfriend confronts his hatred of immigrants when he meets her black son in Heart of a Lion.
The winner of the shooting star award at the Berlin Film Festival for the drama Purge last year, Birn says director Dome Karukoski wanted to make a film for a wide audience rather than just a confronting drama like the 1992 Russell Crowe film Romper Stomper and the 1998 Edward Norton movie it inspired, American History X.
“He wanted to make a film for a big audience, not only to preach to people who think the same as us that racism is bad,” she said. “He wanted young kids who might have racist thoughts to think, ‘They’re doing a film about us and it’s a comedy, let’s go and laugh.’
“Then maybe at some point, somebody thinks, ‘I can think in another way.’ “
Heart of a Lion has been a hit in Finland, drawing attention to the fact that even well-off Scandinavian countries have a problem with racism amid tensions over immigration and refugees.
Its success has been another career boost for Birn, who recently shot her first American movie.
She played “a victim” in the Liam Neeson crime thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones.
“Even though my part was so small, everybody treated me really nice,” she said. “It was so great but it’s not like I’m aiming to work in Hollywood. What I dream of is good, interesting scripts or great parts.”
Birn, who also stars in the Cold War romantic comedy August Fools at the festival, believes the brutal climate partly explains the dark undercurrents in so much Scandinavian film and television, including the Millennium trilogy, Borgen, The Bridge and The Killing.
”We spend six months in darkness really,” she said. ”It has to affect you. You see the change in Finland when the sun comes in summertime; people do really get more light and they start to talk more.
”But when it’s winter, it’s quiet and you kind of try to preserve energy. There’s a certain melancholy that the weather brings.”
The festival, which is running at Palace Norton Street and the Verona, covers films from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Iceland.
”The cinematic styles and the stories in this region are all unique in their own way, while still being quite relatable for Australians,” festival director Genevieve Kelly said. ”The comedy can be quite dry, which I think Australians really relate to.”
She believes the restraint and realism of Scandinavian storytelling make dark stories all the more scary for viewers around the world.
”It’s almost as like those situations can happen to you,” she said. “They’re not so far-fetched that they don’t seem real.”
The Scandinavian Film Festival runs until July 27.
EASY MONEY I, II and III
In a Swedish trilogy, an economics student (Joel Kinnaman from The Killing and RoboCop) turns to crime to make his fortune in the gritty Stockholm underworld.
I AM YOURS
A Pakistani-Norwegian actress (Amrita Acharia from Game of Thrones) with a young son meets a Swedish director (Ola Rapace) in a Norwegian romantic drama. ”It deals with love and relationships in a really heartbreaking way,” festival director Genevieve Kelly said.
A comic love story from Sweden about a socially awkward woman (Moa Gammel) who meets a shy pianist (Simon J. Berger). ”It’s all about dealing with loss and love in unexpected circumstances,” Kelly said. ”It’s very quirky and very sweet.”