Nordic films at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2017



Directed by Ralitza Petrova

In the shadow of a mountain nicknamed “Godless,” justice is rare and making the right choice comes at a cost. Outwardly impassive Gana works as a home care nurse in post-Communist era Bulgaria. Her relationship with her mechanic boyfriend consists mainly of a shared morphine addiction and a side gig selling identity cards to black-market operators. And with Gana’s job, both drugs and IDs are within easy reach. The only thing that stirs this stoic woman’s soul is the music of the choir lead by one of her patients. When Gana’s actions threaten her one glimmer of hope, will she break the cycle of corruption or spiral deeper? Artful 35mm cinematography (employing unusual 4:3 framing) and an award-winning performance by lead actress Irena Ivanova bring texture and grit to this bold observation of a woman trapped in a fatalistic culture. —Laura Henneman (SF Film Festival Synopsis)

San Francisco Int’l Film Festival Link

The Untamed

Directed by Amat Escalante

A sensual, erotic, and often bizarre meditation on pleasure and destruction, The Untamed is a cinematic adventure not soon forgotten. Ángel is a difficult man who exerts grim control over his wife Alejandra, while conducting an affair with her brother Fabian. All three of these characters find their lives lacking, whether it be unfulfilling jobs, abusive and adulterous spouses, or challenging economic situations. So when a willowy stranger named Verónica enters their realm and brings them to a remote farmhouse where a creature that can bring otherworldly pleasure resides, the result will transform all of their lives. Taking a grand leap into the fantastical after the brute realism of his celebrated 2013 Heli, Escalante has crafted a uniquely unsettling intersection between sci-fi horror, allegory, and messily dysfunctional domestic drama. Though very different in style, The Untamed acknowledges (literally, in its closing credits) one clear predecessor—the late Andrej Zulawski’s 1981 cult favorite Possession, another portrait of a deteriorating marriage in which love is a many-tentacled thing. (SF Film Festival Synopsis)

San Francisco Int’l Film Festival Link


Rivers and Tides

Directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer

Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy knows that most of his pieces will not last long, because of where he makes them (often in open fields or on beaches) and what he uses—ice, driftwood, bracken, leaves, stone. His work’s transitory nature, in fact, is a central part of the artist’s creative efforts to understand the energy that flows through him and through the natural landscape that nourishes his vision. In this contemplative and insightful film, director Thomas Riedelsheimer shows us Goldsworthy as he works to understand that energetic flow, represented often by water, by wind or simply the passage of the seasons. Both carefully composed and fluid, Riedelsheimer’s film keeps our attention on the artist’s vision and work, giving us room to ponder our own relationship to the energy coursing through the natural world. A superb musical score by Fred Frith evokes, in its spareness, both Mahler and Japan, and deepens our sense of the precarious but beautiful balance Goldsworthy strives for in taking his work “to the very edge of its collapse,” that place where the force of nature hovers like a hawk. —Sid Hollister (SF Film Festival Synopsis)

San Francisco Int’l Film Festival Link



I Called Him Morgan

Directed by Kasper Collin

Discovered by Dizzy Gillespie and an MVP of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers ensemble, Lee Morgan was a key player in New York’s ’60s “hard-bop” scene—a trumpeter with a beautifully supple, expressive sound, a dapper prodigy who had played with John Coltrane by his late teens and gained the admiration of his peers by his early twenties. It was inevitable he’d eventually cross paths with Helen More, a self-proclaimed “sharp” woman whose apartment on 53rd Street was a hospitable hot spot for hungry jazz musicians. She would help Morgan kick a drug habit, clean up, and stage a comeback. She would be by his side when he formed a quintet and recorded some of his most enduring records for Blue Note. She would become his common-law wife. And on February 19th, 1972, in between late-night sets at an East Village club, Helen would pull out a gun and shoot the 33-year-old band leader, killing the man she loved. Gathering together archival footage, stills, testimonials from legends like Wayne Shorter and Billy Harper, and a 1996 interview with Helen conducted a month before her death, Swedish documentarian Kasper Collin (My Name Is Albert Ayler, 2006) traces the duo’s individual histories and tries to unravel the mystery behind her impulsive act that fateful night. The movie also draws an incredible you-are-there portrait of the era’s after-hours jazz scene, from the hectic recording-studio sessions to the smoky Manhattan stages where these musical pioneers chased a sound. And most of all, it recounts a wild amour fou story, in which two mercurial people can’t live without each other and can’t help turning their romance into something like a Greek tragedy. —David Fear (SF Film Festival Synopsis)


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.