Nordic films screening at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017


Land of the Free / 2017 (95 min)

Denmark, Finland

Directed by Camilla Magid

Screening in Documentary Films Competition

In the economically depressed neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles it’s far too easy to get on the wrong side of the law. Here, theft and drug dealing are the order of the day, and even minor offenses can erupt into unexpected violence that you’ll regret for the rest of your life. One fateful day 42-year-old Brian, who has just been released from serving a long prison sentence, experienced it firsthand. The time has come to breathe in deeply his newly regained freedom, although in a world so transformed as to be unrecognizable it’s easy for a person to suffocate. It’s even harder to watch as Juan, a teenager on probation, and seven-year-old Gianni get caught in the vicious cycle of social determination. Three portraits mutually reflecting each other – the tale of a single sad life manifest in three forms. With sensitivity and respect for her protagonists, the debuting director immerses herself in the depths of human vulnerability in order to draw out fragments of hope, demonstrating that if your life completely falls apart, you might be able to discern its contours in something as simple as a cup of coffee.

Festival Link

Quit Staring at My Plate (Ne gledaj mi u pijat) / 2016 (105 min)

Croatia, Denmark

Directed by Hana Jušić

Starring Mia Petričević, Nikša Butijer, Arijana Čulina, Zlatko Burić

Screening in Horizons

Marijana is a docile young woman who, until the age of twenty-four, had never even seen the big city. She has spent much of her life running around after her family, yet now, after her father has a stroke, she finds herself in charge. She tries not to be driven insane in their tiny apartment, where she shares a bedroom with her slow-witted older brother and unemployed mother, and where there’s no place to hide from the intrusive physical proximity of others. She deals with the increasing psychological pressure by opening up to her own sexuality. This taste of unexplored freedom, however, comes with a liability and necessitates a decision which may be more difficult that she had anticipated. The debuting Croatian director draws on the poetics of small-town peripheries, cramped hideaways, insipid passions – and the desire to escape them – in order to create a realistic vision of the spiritual emancipation of a strong heroine, superbly played by nonprofessional actress Mia Petričević. The filmmaker delicately balances the bleak social aspects with an easy-going commentary on the Balkan mentality, far removed from Kusturica-style vaudeville.

Festival Link

Atelier / 2017 (30 mins)

Directed by Elsa María Jakobsdóttir

Starring Rosalinde Mynster, Anna Rothlin

Screening in Future Frames: Ten New Filmmakers To Follow

A young woman comes to a remote island to get away from it all, taking refuge at a modern studio utopia. All she needs is restorative peace and quiet, but her stay is jarringly interrupted by an intruder: an artist whose acoustic installation disturbs everything that the starkly empty house has to offer. The tension between the two women rises and the motionless calm gives way to growing frustration and anger. Emerging from the wilds of nature, the house becomes the third character of the story – a labyrinth in which contrasting personalities meet and differing lifestyles and expectations clash.

Festival Link

The Untamed (La región salvaje) / 2016 (100 mins)

Mexico / Denmark / France / Germany / Norway / Switzerland

Directed by Amat Escalante

Starring Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Jesús Meza, Eden Villavicencio

Screening in Horizons

Working mother Alejandra lives with her husband and two sons in a small city. She doesn’t have much to look forward to in her life, and her brutal partner Ángel, who likes to drink, is a constant worry. True, her brother Fabián is a support, but he’s not the happiest of campers and, like Ángel, he’s holding onto a big secret. When the mysterious Verónica appears, however, the siblings’ lives are irreversibly turned inside out. As in his previous films, director Escalante’s The Untamed criticizes Mexican society, taking stock of its oppressive system head-on and never allowing the camera to swerve away from systematic violence, especially misogyny and homophobia. This time, however, he adds fantasy elements to a reality rife with injustice, thereby shifting the family drama toward science fiction and allowing pure cinema to express the animality and pleasure that rise suddenly to the surface. For his chilling and unsettling film, Escalante was awarded Best Director at last year’s Venice IFF.

Festival Link

David Lynch: The Art Life / 2016 (93 mins)

USA / Denmark

Directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm

Screening in Out of the Past

David Lynch – a director who needs no introduction. Slowly but surely the attributes implied by his name have come to serve as the common notion of “strange”: films that treat storytelling and cinematic time atypically or that contain traces of surrealism. But how does he himself view his work and how does he position it in the context of his life? The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life is dedicated to Lynch’s youngest daughter, and appropriately so. He gives an intimate account of his memories of childhood, adolescence, and his early artistic career, the latter of which ended the moment he shouted “Action!” on the set of Eraserhead (1977). David Lynch the painter, sculptor, and musician comes to the fore during the movie’s hour-and-a-half runtime, a creator for whom cinema is the synthesis of all the artistic disciplines in which he is active. The present is symbolized by the studio in Lynch’s home, the past by multiple visual archives – with the two lines organically merging into a portrait of a complex artist who, just this once, doesn’t conjure up bizarre fictional worlds, but instead admits us into his own private realm.

Festival Link


After the Reunion (Luokkakokouksen jälkeen) 2016 (14 mins)

Directed by Kirsikka Saari

Starring Sari Siikander, Petteri Pennilä

Screening in Future Frames: Ten New Filmmakers To Follow

Fifty-year-old Saila doesn’t wake up after a class reunion in the most comfortable position. A long-forgotten former classmate is in bed with her, and despite the fact that he’s enjoying their morning together, she’d rather suppress the entire situation. While toned with humour and tenderness, the encounter after so many years also reveals disappointment and a hangover of moral dimensions.

Festival Link

Arrhythmia (Aritmiya) / 2017 (116 mins)


Directed by Boris Khlebnikov

Starring Alexander Yatsenko, Irina Gorbacheva

Screening in Official Selection – Competition

Oleg is heading for his thirties. He works as a paramedic and, after a hard shift, he likes to take a few swigs. His wife Katya is also a doctor, working in the hospital’s emergency department. But her patience with Oleg is running thin, so she announces one day that she wants a divorce… One of the most intriguing filmmakers on the Russian scene today, Boris Khlebnikov returns to the big screen with a meticulous piece of direction. Along with precise performances from the cast, the film examines a relationship experiencing an arrhythmia similar to that affecting the hearts of the patients Oleg treats in his job as a paramedic.

Festival Link

The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen) / 2017 (98 mins)

Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Starring Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula, Nuppu Koivu, Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon, Niroz Haji, Kaija Pakarinen

Screening in Horizons

A cargo ship docks on a cold Finnish shore carrying a stowaway, a Syrian refugee named Khaled. He’s made it to Europe, but an asylum hearing still awaits and the outcome is uncertain. While hope is the last thing to die, he has to accept the possibility of having to live on the streets of Helsinki. At the same time, in another place, morose Wikström is dealing with a family catastrophe. One day he suddenly walks away from his door-to-door shirt-selling business, puts on a stony expression, and heads to the casino with a lifetime of savings. Will he parlay the cash into the restaurant he’s always dreamed of opening? Fans of the distinctive Finnish director will find the hallmarks of his work put to effective use in a story that brings together two disparate lives: laconic humor, subtly humorous gags, and his inimitable set design. And this time as well, Kaurismäki’s cinematic world, in which the situation usually has an unexpected outcome, is governed by an odd set of rules. Presenting a melancholy, yet optimistic message on the strength of solidarity, the picture was a highlight of this year’s Berlinale, where it deservedly earned Kaurismäki the Silver Bear for directing.

Festival Link


Blind / 2014 (96 mins)


Directed by Eskil Vogt

Starring Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali, Marius Kollbenstvedt

Screening in People Next Door

A lithe, quicksilver portrait of a woman whose loss of sight only serves to sharpen her creative imagination. This standout debut feature for screenwriter Eskil Vogt retains many of the literate, self-reflexive touches he brought to his collaborations with helmer Joachim Trier while finding its own alternately droll, sexy, heartbreaking rhythms. The film serves as a revelatory showcase for actress Ellen Dorrit Petersen, who spends much of her time writing, creating a fictional narrative that allows her to see in her mind what she can no longer see with her eyes. As in Reprise, Vogt shows a deep-set fascination with how writing can serve alternately as a means of escape, vicarious experience, catharsis and self-discovery. Vogt finds ingenious cinematic ways of visualizing a writer’s fickle temperament, with sets and locations (even the gender of one character) that change onscreen as they evolve in the character’s mind.

Festival Link

Quality Time / 2017 (85 mins)

Directed by Dann Bakker

Starring Noël Keulen, Fred Goessens, Giulio D’Anna, Bert Bunschoten, Ria Marks

Screening in Another View

Five men, five stories. Varying greatly in stylistic approach, their narratives are connected through the director’s ability to incisively comment on the difficult situations faced by the feckless young men: finally leaving your parents’ home and starting to live your own life isn’t always that simple… With a flair for irony and the absurd, Daan Bakker creates fictional worlds for his heroes that are grim and complicated, and often necessitate extreme solutions. Koen lives in a primitive, two-dimensional, stereotypical space, but his yearly meeting with his family isn’t any easier for him than it is for Jef, who must deal with the demands made by his girlfriend’s parents. With the help of a time machine, Kjell decides to rid himself of childhood traumas, but the results are debatable – just as they are for Stefaan, who searches for places that played a crucial role in his life in a labyrinth of wide-angle shots. Facing huge obstacles, the down-and-out protagonists serve as a charitable metaphor for all social losers who perceive the real world as incredibly complicated, just like the world Karel returns home to – after being abducted by aliens.

Festival Link

The Family (La familia) / 2017 (82 mins)

Venezuela / Chile / Norway

Directed by Gustavo Rondón Córdova

Starring Giovanny García, Reggie Reyes

Screening in Another View

It’s not easy to survive on the outskirts of Caracas, where the atmosphere is thick with searing poverty and violence. Andrés, the single father of 12-year-old Pedro, knows all about it. Every day, he has to break his back just to ensure the mere basics for his son. Under-the-table odd jobs are more the rule than the exception. As a result, the young boy is influenced in equal measure by his father and by the ruthless laws of the street, where people live from one moment to the next and any mistake is immediately punished. But what can you do when your home – your only safe harbour in a chaotic world – suddenly becomes the target of new enemies? The hands-on cinematography gives this raw story of the changing relationship between father and son an almost documentary sense of urgency. The film’s realistic feel is further heightened by the atmosphere of the Venezuelan capital, which – at a time when the country suffers immense social problems, hyperinflation, and a shortage of food, medicine, electricity and water – takes on an increasingly more savage character.

Festival Link


The Nile Hilton Incident / 2016 (109 mins)

Directed by Tarik Saleh

Starring Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Yaser Maher

Screening in Horizons

Set against the backdrop of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, this thriller won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at Sundance. As the streets of Cairo start to seethe and the regime’s elites struggle to hold on to power, Detective Naredin is called in to investigate the murder of a beautiful singer. In the course of the investigation, he becomes ever more entangled in a murky game played at the highest levels of Egyptian politics, he can no longer trust old or new alliances, and he finds himself increasingly alone on his quest. Tarik Saleh’s movie reconstructs revolutionary Cairo, at once a lively and suffocating place. It’s the chaos of the apocalypse and the hero is trying to do the right thing: get justice for the murder victim even if it costs him his life. The picture draws on the film noir tradition while also recalling the revolutionary ferment and the attendant political commentary. The director’s long-time collaborator, charismatic Fares Fares, portrays the dogged detective. Exterior locations were shot in Casablanca.

Festival Link

Schoolyard Blues (Skolstartssorg) / 2016 (17 mins)

Directed by Maria Eriksson

Starring Douglas Steyner, Olle Frelin

Screening in Future Frames: Ten New Filmmakers To Follow

For John, the first day of school isn’t the same as for the other kids whose parents accompany them and arrange everything. The young boy’s only support is his 11-year-old brother Mika who turns up unexpectedly with somewhat clinical “instructions for school” to help John overcome the challenges he’ll face in the coming years. Carefree childhood is ending and adult responsibilities are rushing in too fast. Schoolyard Blues ushers us into an environment where kids become little adults, and their world is much crueler and more complicated than we could ever imagine.

Festival Link

Spoor (Pokot) 2017 (128 mins)

Poland / Germany / Czech Republic / Sweden / Slovak Republic

Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Starring A. Mandat, W. Zborowski, M. Krobot, J. Gierszał, P. Volny

Screening in Czech Films 2016–2017

Covered with dense forest, the Czech-Polish border region might at first seem like a place where man and nature thrive in harmony. In Agnieszka Holland’s genre-defying film, however, the desolate landscape is quite the opposite, a battleground where two world views come into conflict. The enterprising, eccentric Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat) loves animals and is highly critical of the hunting and poaching that goes on both in and out of season. Duszejko believes that killing animals is tantamount to murder. Yet the quirky woman has her opponents – the gamekeepers, whose ranks include local dignitaries, police officers and a priest. When mysterious disappearances and bizarre deaths start to occur in the vicinity, it looks as if Nature herself is taking her revenge. Insurrection comes from unexpected quarters – and things become as perilous as the corrupt system is cynical. The structure of this thriller is equally elusive, diluting the tension with malicious black humour. The film brought the director the Alfred Bauer Prize for artistic merit at this year’s Berlinale.

Festival Link

Stockholm My Love / 2016 (88 mins)

Sweden / United Kingdom

Directed by Mark Cousins

Starring Neneh Cherry

Screening in Another View

A unique figure of contemporary cinema, Cousins has now shifted techniques applied in his last feature-length work I Am Belfast (2015) in the direction of a feature film. This multilayered variation on the metropolitan symphony is at once a music film, a love letter to the city, an intimate study of guilt, and an urbanistic essay. A Swedish architect never makes it to her class; instead, she strolls through the city, while her reflections on the topic of her lecture mingle with memories of the most traumatic experience of her life. For her, a city is a place where the individual confronts order. At first Stockholm appears as a constricting form, yet it then manifests itself as space where people seek happiness and revel in their little joys. Singer Neneh Cherry performs her acting debut here, and Stockholm is captured through the lens of Christopher Doyle (I Am Belfast, The Limits of Control, Hero, Ondine, most recently Endless Poetry). Apart from songs by Neneh Cherry, the soundtrack also features music by Benny Andersson (ABBA) and by 19th century Swedish composer Franz Berwald.

Festival Link

Our interview with Mark Cousins

Strawberry Days (Jordgubbslandet) 2016 (93 mins)

Directed by Wiktor Ericsson

Starring Staszek Cywka, Nelly Axelsson, Przemyslaw Sadowski, Julia Kijowska, Emilie Strandberg, Torkel Petersson, Jan Dravnel, Mateusz Król

Screening in Variety Critics Choice

Every summer, the Polish workers come to the Swedish countryside and pick strawberries. They arrive by caravan, tending the fields all day and keeping to themselves at night, while the landowners hardly bother to learn their names. It’s a cycle as sure as the seasons themselves, though this year is different as one of the foreign fruit-pickers’ kids is old enough to take an interest in the host family’s daughter, and there among the strawberries, a case of young love blossoms for the first time, complicating the entire arrangement – for the migrant workers are expected to make themselves invisible. In this sensitive, sun-kissed teenage romance, Swedish director Wiktor Ericsson invites us to recognize and identify with these faceless outsiders, asking for equality on the simplest terms. Though the setting may be specific, its appeal is universal, boasting a texture so rich, you can practically smell the ripe strawberries in the air.

Festival Link

A Ciambra / 2017 (120 min)

Italy / USA / France / Sweden

Directed by Jonas Carpignano

Starring Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Iolanda Amato, Damiano Amato

Screening in Horizons

Some movies are magical, and despite focusing on real people and real places, Jonas Carpignano’s A Ciambra is one of them. Ciambra is a Roma community in Calabria, Italy, where 14-year-old Pio lives with his large family. Pio tries desperately to grow up and become the equal, for better or worse, of his older brother, who earns money in legally dubious ways and is considered an adult by the rest of the community. One day, his brother disappears and Pio more or less succeeds in taking his place. But his duel with the underworld is mismatched. A diverse range of characters (from local elders to African immigrants), the scent of a campfire, throbbing music from the local club, and the struggles of surviving from one day to the next – all this is Pio’s world. Jonas Carpignano returns to Ciambra, where he shot his eponymous short film; through patient work with nonprofessional actors, he gives us a glimpse of a community that is usually closed off to the outside world.

Festival Link

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.