Nordic films screening at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2018

Nordic films are the centre of attention at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which has a special section for the Nordic competition.

There is also a seminar on Nordic films taking place. Read about it here. 


  • Dates: 31st January – 10th February
  • Santa Barbara, California

Here are the films screening. Click on the film titles for trailers, reviews, and more details:


Three Things

Directed by  Jens Dahl

Screening in the Nordic Competition

3 THINGS takes place in a hotel where the police are negotiating the terms of a witness protection deal with the prime suspect of a robbery and an expert on explosives, Mikael (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). In order to agree to the deal, Mikael demands three things from the police: that his former girlfriend is brought to him, that the police bring the contents of a box he has stored, and that he is served butter chicken from his favorite restaurant. The police, under heavy time pressure to get him to testify the following day, agree.

View on festival website


Screening in the Nordic Competition

Directed by Birgitte Stærmose

DARLING is the moving love story of a dancer on the rollercoaster ride of her life, a drama about the rise and fall of a modern woman as she summons the courage to face her greatest trial. Darling is a world-famous Danish ballerina. After a long absence, she and her husband Frans return to the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen to perform the classic ballet “Giselle.” She will dance the title role with Frans as choreographer. During a rehearsal, Darling collapses in pain. The prognosis is clear: her hip is irreparably damaged, and she will never dance again. Her professional life, her world, is in ruins. But Darling refuses to let go. She decides to train her replacement, a young ballerina named Polly, to make Polly the Giselle she can no longer be. But as Polly becomes the center of attention, of Frans’ attention, Darling’s emotional stability begins to unravel.

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While We Live

Screening in the Nordic Competition

Directed by Mehdi Avaz

In this story that is inspired by true events, Kristian travels to his hometown to visit his terminally ill stepdad. There he learns that everyone still blames him for a tragic accident that tore the family apart five years earlier. Emotions and conflicts resurface as Kristian faces his ex-girlfriend and their child in a final attempt to, by his stepfather’s dying request, reunite the family.

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You Disappear

Screening in Special Presentations

Directed by Peter Schønau Fog

A principal at a posh private school, Frederik Halling (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is happily married and adores his job. During a vacation he begins acting erratically and when he’s abruptly hospitalized, the family is confronted with life-changing news: Frederik’s odd behaviour may have been caused by a brain tumour. After he returns home, Frederik’s employer confronts him with a string of questionable investments that suggest his illness may have been affecting his behaviour for much longer than anyone realized.

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Screening in the Nordic Competition

Directed by Teemu Nikki

Anyone raised on the exploitation movies of Roger Corman or Larry Cohen will respond immediately and affectionately to the polished grunge of EUTHANIZER. Even the uninitiated will find themselves charmed by Teemu Nikki’s disturbing and hilarious third feature. Veijo, played by Finnish character actor Matti Onnismaa in his first starring role, runs a black-market operation euthanizing people’s ailing — and sometimes just unwanted — pets. It’s not a wealthy region, and the local veterinarian charges far more than most can afford. Each commission also comes with a brutal lecture, as Veijo spills over with Old Testament–style indignation about what shoddy and appalling people his patrons are. From the outset, it’s clear that our hero has dark secrets, but it’s only when he meets a young nurse (who tends to his catatonic father) and a seedy garage mechanic (who’s mixed up with a vicious gang of neo-Nazis) that Veijo’s carefully balanced, albeit deranged, life begins to show cracks. What crawls out when things really start to fall apart would, to paraphrase Bill Lee, make an ambulance attendant puke.

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Star Boys

Screening in the Nordic Competition

Directed by Visa Koiso-Kanttila

STAR BOYS is about what happens when sexual revolution arrives into a conservative and religious small town in Northern Finland, as seen by the 13-year-old Star Boy singers who are forced to observe their parents’ sexual liberation and its consequences at too close range. It’s a powerful story of two families of architects being torn apart by the crumbling of morals and the parents’ endless need for love and freedom. After a fatal toga party, no one and nothing is the same, and the boys’ confusion erupts violently. Even though STAR BOYS deals with heavy themes, it is ultimately a warm and positive survival story that portrays the persistence and capacity of children to get over even most difficult experiences in life.

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The Eternal Road

Screening in the Nordic competition

Directed by Antti-Jussi Annila

Based on true events, THE ETERNAL ROAD is the epic story of one man’s struggle for survival. Jussi Ketola returns to Finland after the Great Depression hit in America, only to face growing political unrest. One summer night in 1930, nationalist thugs violently abduct Ketola from his home. Beaten and forced to walk the Eternal Road towards a foreign and brutal Soviet Russia, his only dream is to return to his family, whatever the cost. Hope dies last.

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The Swan

Directed by Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir

Screening in the Nordic Competition

Adapted from Guðbergur Bergsson’s celebrated novel, Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s assured feature debut recounts, with poignancy and skill, a young girl’s brief, eventful exile. Summering on a farm during childhood is an Icelandic tradition that only recently began to fade. (It was supposed to teach kids to be more independent.) For THE SWAN’s nine-year-old heroine, Sól (Grima Valsdóttir), there is an added element: she’s been sent away to her relative’s farm as punishment for shoplifting, and because her parents have split. Managing an unruly child is too much for her mother to handle alone. “Everything is so old and smells weird,” Sól initially complains before gradually comprehending that her uncle and aunt’s gruff manner isn’t ill will. The animals charm her, and she befriends a young Icelandic worker. The more acquainted she becomes with the ways of the farm, though, the more contradictions she notices, especially the couple’s constant claim that nature’s laws are the reasons for their actions. When her cousin Ásta returns home, Sól begins to realize that the adult world is far more complicated and callous than she ever anticipated. Told from Sól’s perspective — and fusing her realizations with haunting dreams and myths about local monsters and beasts — THE SWAN is the sometimes troubling and always affecting tale of a child’s growth that also indirectly charts a nation’s maturation.

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Under the Tree

Screening in Special Presentations

Directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson

In UNDER THE TREE, possibly the best comedy from Iceland since ELEVEN MEN OUT, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson examines the simmering frictions between two neighbouring families in a sleepy suburb. Grieving Inga and put-upon husband Baldvin are the proud owners of the area’s only tree. Next door, amateur marksman Konrad lives with his new, much younger wife, the athletic Eybjorg — whose mere appearance incites torrents of expletives from Inga. Worse, it’s a pleasant summer, and the only thing more coveted than trees in Iceland is sunlight. Eybjorg is infuriated by the way the overhanging branches of Inga’s beloved tree block the sunshine. The sudden return of Inga’s son, Atli, tossed from his apartment after his wife found him enthusiastically interfacing with salacious material on his laptop, only complicates the situation.

Read our review

View on festival website


Beyond Dreams

Screening in the Nordic Competition

Directed by Rojda Sekersöz

After time in prison where she had been without the gang and their rules for the first time in her life, Mirja returns home to find new circumstances. Her mother is seriously ill, and she has to find a job and help to take care of her younger sister.

Mirja begins to live a double life between her family and the gang. She wants to be a better daughter to her mother and an independent person. She enjoys her job, but by becoming a part of society, she must betray her friends, and Mirja isn’t ready for the consequences that her new life brings. BEYOND DREAMS is about who you are expected to be and who you want to be.

Read our interview with Rojda Sekersöz

View on festival website


Screening in Special Presentations

Directed by Janus Metz

In terms of temperament, they were opposites: one a paragon of cool containment, the other a volcano of visceral emotion. But they had something in common: they were the best. Featuring immersive performances from Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, and Stellan Skarsgård, Borg/McEnroe is sports drama as psychological thriller. Helmed by Danish director Janus Metz, the film recreates the legendary 1980 Wimbledon Championship match between tennis savants Björn Borg and John McEnroe, as well as the media frenzy surrounding it and the private angst experienced by the players and their coterie.

Read our interview with the screenwriter Ronnie Sandahl

View on festival website

The Square

Screening in Special Presentations

Directed by Ruben Östlund

Self-confident, successful and charming in his impeccable suits, the reputable chief curator for Stockholm’s contemporary art “X-Royal Museum”, Christian, really enjoys the good life. However, his whole existence will go into meltdown, when Christian, after falling victim to an intricate pick-pocketing scam, decides to follow a rather unorthodox way to retrieve what was stolen. Mistake after mistake, the desperate art connoisseur will do the exact opposite of what his latest cutting-edge project named simply “The Square” represents, to finally remedy this unfortunate situation–but at what cost? Could it be that the Square is nothing more than a hideous simulation of a rapidly deteriorating social reality?

Read our interview with Ruben Östlund

View on festival website

All synopses taken from festival website. 

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.