Nordic films at the Melbourne International Film Festival

About the festival

What? Melbourne International Film Festival

When? 3 – 20 August 2017

Where? Melbourne, Australia

Festival website: http://miff.com.au/


The Untamed

Directed by Amat Escalante


In rural Mexico, unhappily married Alejandra and Angel have their dysfunctional lives turned upside down when they meet Verónica, a strange loner who takes them to her remote cabin in the woods. There, they encounter a tentacled creature who descended in a meteor, one who’s capable of causing both immense pleasure and frightening destruction.

With echoes of Lars von Trier, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, provocateur Amat Escalante (The Bastards, MIFF 2009) eschews the hardcore realism of his Cannes-winning Heli (2013) for something altogether weirder, imbuing his obsessive sexual drama with gooey supernatural elements sure to sear themselves into audience memory.


Loving Pia

Directed by Daniel Borgman


Pia and her elderly mother Guitto – both playing themselves – live alone on a small Danish island. They both know that Guitto is nearing the end of h life, and that Pia won’t be able to look after herself when she dies. Guitto wants Pia to move to a group home, where she can live with people like her. But after a lifetime of dreaming, Pia is determined to find true love and a man who can look after her, no matter what her mother says.

Created in collaboration with the real life Pia Skovgaard, Loving Pia is the dreamlike and affectionate sophomore feature from writer, director and cinematographer Daniel Borgman (The Weight of Elephants, MIFF 2013). Shooting in gauzy 16mm, Borgman has created a loving portrayal of intellectual disability that is rich in both humour and humanity – a film that sings with the understanding and friendship that made it.


Ginger and Rosa

Directed by Sally Porter


It’s London, 1962. Born in the same hospital on the day the H-bomb hit Hiroshima, Ginger and Rosa are inseparable – playing truant, smoking cigarettes and discussing poetry, politics, and boys in the bath together. But as the Cold War meets the sexual revolution and Ginger’s burgeoning political activism takes root, their intense, lifelong friendship is threatened by a belief-shattering betrayal.

Alice Englert (who also directed the short film Family Happiness, screening at MIFF this year) as Rosa and Elle Fanning as Ginger both deliver beautifully nuanced performances full of subtle emotional turmoil. With an outstanding cast including Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall, this feature from lauded director Sally Potter is one of her most accessible.


The Drowning Man

Directed by Mahdi Fleifel


The daily struggles of a Palestinian refugee living in Greece are dramatised by filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel, who has previously documented the experiences of refugees in A World Not Ours (MIFF 2013), Xenos (MIFF 2014) and A Man Returned (MIFF 2016).


Bobbi Jene

Directed by Elvira Lind


In 2005, American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith followed venerated choreographer Ohad Naharin to Tel Aviv and became a star of his world-famous Batsheva Dance Company. A decade later and pushing 30, she faces a personal and professional crossroads: leaving behind her passionate new love with fellow company member Or Schraiber – ten years her junior – she heads home in order to branch out on her own, kickstarting her solo career with a deeply personal, provocative choreography bound to get viewers talking!

With remarkable intimacy and emotional depth, director Elvira Lind charts the journey of a woman finding her place in the world, and the sacrifices she has to make to realise her ambitions. As Smith navigates the life-altering challenges of maintaining a relationship across international borders, reconnecting with her conservative family and starting again from scratch in an intensely competitive field – her incredible choreography pulls no punches just to break down doors – Lind is there with her camera, capturing it all with naked honesty; in addition to winning Tribeca’s top Documentary prize, she also took home the festival’s Best Cinematography award.

Big Time

Kaspar Astrup Schröder


At only 42, Bjarke Ingels has achieved more than most architects could ever dream of. In the last few years alone, he’s designed Google’s headquarters, the Smithsonian’s new campus and the DryLine – New York’s post-Hurricane Sandy flood-protection system. Drawing on natural forms and sustainable practices, Ingels’ playful and eye-catching buildings defy easy categorisation, at times seeming to flout the rules of gravity itself. Yet success brings with it incredible pressure, and for Ingels the prestigious 2 World Trade Centre development will push him to his absolute limits.

Filmed over the course of five years, Big Time is a captivating labour of love from acclaimed documentary maker Kaspar Astrup Schröder (The Invention of Dr Nakamats, MIFF 2009). Spanning some of Ingels’ most profound and challenging professional and personal moments, Big Time reveals a man driven by his own unique vision, yet struggling to reconcile that with the person he wants to be.



Directed by Thomas Freundlich


An unlikely dance film between a fisherman in the Arctic and a man he discovers frozen under the ice.




Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Poland/Germany/Sweden/Czech Republic/Slovakia

Duszejko is a retired engineer living in a log cabin in a remote, mountainous corner of rural Poland. Obsessed with astrology, and ferociously protective of the local wildlife – especially when it comes to the area’s deer hunters, who have the police and even the church on their side – Duszejko is aghast when her dogs go missing and, in the following months, a series of hunters are found dead. Could nature itself be taking revenge?

For her latest outing, Agnieszka Holland (Olivier, Olivier, MIFF 1992) teams up with writer Olga Tokarczuk to adapt her novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead. The result is by turns whimsical, warm-hearted and occasionally hair-raising.


The Square

Directed by Ruben Östlund


Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure, MIFF 2014) is a filmmaker who revels in the uncomfortable shadowlands of polite society. In The Square, he turns his eye toward the pretense and performance of the cultural elite, transforming a modern art gallery into a giddy playground of discomfiting surrealism and scathing absurdity that will leave you squirming and breathless.

Ostentatious and suave, art gallery owner Christian is the very definition of the European effete. On his way to work one morning, where he’s about to launch a daring new exhibition, his wallet and mobile phone are stolen in an even more daring pickpocket scheme. But when an attempt at payback goes awry, and a marketing stunt for his exhibition goes off the rails, Christian’s sense of the natural order of things is dangerously destabilised.

Danish actor Claes Bang lives up to his name in the role of Christian, while Elisabeth Moss (also appearing in this year’s festival in Top of the Lake: China Girl) steals the few scenes she’s in; along with Dominic West’s, their performances help make The Square one of the year’s most talked about films.


Sami Blood

Directedy by Amanda Kernell


Making her striking directorial debut (and winning the Best Director of a Debut Film award at the Venice Film Festival for her efforts), Swedish-Sami filmmaker Amanda Kernell delivers a female coming-of-age story set against the little-discussed social prejudices of 1930s Sweden, told with an emotional power that will resonate with audiences universally.

Reindeer-herding Sami teenager Elle-Marja is sent to a boarding school designed to make its Indigenous students “acceptable” to white Swedish society, where she excels with her fierce intelligence. Newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok gives a wonderfully exuberant performance as a teenager torn between her forced desire to assimilate and burgeoning sense of self, while Kernell beautifully articulates adolescent anxiety and the impact of prejudice when one culture seeks to deny another.


The Nile Hilton Incident

Directed by Tarik Saleh


Crime doesn’t discriminate. It stalks the streets of Cairo just like anywhere else, and it plagues corrupt cop Noredin Mustafa, both in his hefty case load and his shady extra-curricular activities. When he’s tasked with investigating the death of a singer found in the Nile Hilton, he’s soon following the many clues that lead from the city’s underworld to its halls of power.

In his third feature, Tarik Saleh (Metropia, MIFF 2009) crafts a gritty film noir that’s made all the more urgent by its setting, while proudly embracing its genre confines. Here, historical realities and gumshoe staples combine in a gripping, grimy exploration of societal dysfunction on several levels, spanning political unrest, immigration and law and order.


The Giant

Directed by Johannes Nyholm


Abandoned by his mother at birth and largely unable to communicate due to a facial deformity, Rikard is forced to live in a small world, with the game of pétanque offering his only escape. In his dreams, however, he’s a hulking figure stepping over hills and striding across plains in search of happiness. It’ll take the same striving spirit to overcome the odds when he’s kicked off the am after an accident, but decides to still try his luck at the Nordic championships.

First-time feature director Johannes Nyholm may be familiar to MIFF goers through his short films (La Palmas, MIFF 2011; Dreams from the Woods, MIFF 2010; The Tale of Little Puppetboy, MIFF 2009), which have also screened at Cannes. Here, he takes inspiration from his own music video for The Tallest Man on Earth, his love of pétanque and his experience working in a nursing home to create a film restrained in focus but big in impact. Indeed, it won Best Film and Best Screenplay at the 52nd Guldbagge Awards (the Swedish Oscars), and was a Special Jury Prize recipient at the 2016 San Sebastián International Film Festival.


A Ciambra

Directed by Jonas Carpignano


In sun-drenched Calabria, on the forgotten borders of the European refugee crisis, 14-year-old Romani hustler Pio is making an awkward and half-hearted entry into adulthood. Surrounded by his chaotic 15-strong family, and facing up to the paucity of opportunity and reality of distrust that comes with being who he is, Pio longs for the innocence of childhood, but is being inexorably drawn into the petty crime and low-level grift that is his heritage.

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, A Ciambra is a companion piece to filmmaker Jonas Carpignano’s acclaimed Mediterranea (MIFF 2015) and his 2014 short of the same name, where we first met a then pre-teen Pio. But knowledge of the earlier films isn’t required to enjoy this engrossing and emotionally piercing slice of Ken Loach-style cinema vérité, where Pio and the entire Amato clan play themselves, because A Ciambra stands on its own as a film of deep resonance and great empathy where the human drama looms so close you almost feel part of the family.


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.