Everyone loves an end of year countdown list – finding out who loved what and what films were overall liked by the wider public. Scandinavian film has had an incredibly strong year around the globe, with countless international festival awards, cinema releases, and a growing interest in the films from the region.
We have been covering Nordic film and television every day and have had the opportunity to see some of the best Nordic films of the year. From the icy mountains of Norway to the Danish rural countryside, Nordic film is as strong and as diverse as ever.
While it’s hard to pick our favourite Nordic films, here are the top five films we’ve both loved and watched do well internationally.
5. The Here After
Recently released in Sweden, The Here After (Efterskav in Swedish) has already been receiving rave reviews from international film festivals. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival where it was also well received and has since played at major film festivals including the Nordic Film Days.
On returning home to his father and younger brother after serving time in prison, teenager John is looking forward to starting new life again. However, members of the local community can’t forgive him killing his ex-girlfriend. John’s presence brings out the worst in everyone around him and a lynch-mob atmosphere slowly takes shape. Feeling abandoned by his former friends and the people he loves, John loses hope and the same aggression that previously sent him to prison starts building up again. Unable to leave the past behind, he decides to confront it.
We love the film for its rawness – the camera carefully and quietly follows John as he attempts to settle back into his small town. For the first half of the film we are really unaware as to what John did that has made him so disliked (though it is hinted many times), and it is not until three quarters of the way through the film that we see John’s darker side. Before then, he is nothing more than a teenage boy receiving an unnecessary amount of hatred for a crime he committed. Ulrik Munther is convincing as John and director Magnus von Horn is superb in creating a raw and realistic film.
Also, while we were looking at the film on IMDb we found this fact: Inger Nilsson, who plays the headmistress, is the original Pippi Långstrump.
4. The Absent One
Rugged and irritable Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his colleague, the Syria-born Assad, run the cold-case division of the Copenhagen police. After a desperate appeal to Morck about the unsolved killing of his own teenage children, an ex-cop commits suicide. This leads the detective pair on a twisted mission to discover what really happened in the 1990s at one of the country’s poshest boarding schools. Director Mikkel Norgaard reunites with lead stars Kaas and Fares to portray this taut fiction which again alternates deftly between the past and present.
While The Absent One is one of the older films on this list, it’s hard to look past how well this film did in Denmark and around the world when it premiered around a year ago. The film broke box office records when it was released in Denmark, and has since traveled around the world in both cinemas and festivals, where it has been well reviewed. We like the entire Department Q series for how it has managed to translate Nordic Noir perfectly into cinema. With the genre doing so well in television, it’s refreshing to see it in cinema too!
3. Silent Heart
Three generations of a family coming together over a weekend. A sick mother’s wish to die before her disease worsens gets harder to handle as old conflicts come to the surface.
It is very rare that this editor cries during a movie, but Silent Heart was so raw in its tone, delivery and style that it’s hard not to get caught up in the severity and extremity of the emotions being felt by this family. The all-star cast plays cliched but at the same time unique characters, and through their differences they find a way to deal with the circumstances they are forced to face. While we were unhappy with the ending, the film is so powerful in its themes that it is a quintessential Danish contemporary film.
2. The Fencer
Fleeing from the Russian secret police because of his controversial past, a young Estonian fencer named Endel is forced to return to his homeland, where he begins to train a group of young children in the art of fencing. The past however catches up with him and Endel has to choose between letting his students down or putting his life in danger. The movie is partially based on the real life story of an Estonian fencer Endel Nelis (1925-1993).
The Fencer is an exciting film for Finland, and will be remembered throughout the years for its quality. Finnish director Klaus Härö and received the Ingmar Bergman Award in 2004, and three of his films have been chosen as Finland’s submissions for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. When our writer Brenda reviewed the film, she described it as “handsomely filmed in Estonian and Russian, effectively evokes the austere Soviet era. Through the story contains few surprises (especially to Estonians), it is well-crafted and expertly acted. The Fencer will doubtless thrust and parry its way through a number of festivals.” With the film currently competing for the Golden Globe, we expect to see the film at the Academy Awards and hopefully walking away with an award!
In a secluded valley in Iceland, Gummi and Kiddi live side by side, tending to their sheep. Their ancestral sheep-stock is considered one of the country’s best and the two brothers are repeatedly awarded for their prized rams who carry an ancient lineage. Although they share the land and a way of life, Gummi and Kiddi have not spoken to each other in four decades. When a lethal disease suddenly infects Kiddi’s sheep, the entire valley comes under threat. The authorities decide to cull all the animals in the area to contain the outbreak. This is a near death sentence for the farmers, whose sheep are their main source of income, and many abandon their land. But Gummi and Kiddi don’t give up so easily – and each brother tries to stave off the disaster in his own fashion: Kiddi by using his rifle and Gummi by using his wits. As the authorities close in the brothers will need to come together to save the special breed passed down for generations, and themselves, from extinction.
We love Rams. From start to finish we found it to be the perfect mix of art, comedy, depression – everything. Impeccably written around a unique theme set in rural Iceland, the film follows very real characters as they face the difficult decision of losing their sheep, or rather as they fight for their sheep.
Icelandic cinema could easily make up the entirety of our list because of how it is currently performing around the world, and Rams is no exception. With over twenty international festival awards – including the Un Certain Regard – we would be surprised if the film wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. When we spoke to the films director Grimur Hakonarson, he spoke of the struggles to make big budget films in Iceland and mentioned how important Icelandic storytelling was. The low budget of Rams gave it the charm that has made it so successful, and we hope to see more Icelandic stories on screen over the coming years.
Rams plus these films feature in our new magazine, which you can order here.
Here are all the honorable mentions – for Nordic films who have done amazing overseas!
Check back in tomorrow for our list of films to look forward to in 2016.
- A War
- Gold Coast
- Dirk Ohm
- The Idealist
- Virgin Mountain
- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
- Louder Than Bombs
At Home in the World