September 10-20 2015: The Toronto International Film Festival


Land of Mine

Land of Mine (Unter Dem Sand)

As a ragged group of German POWs is dropped off by trucks at the seaside, we see that most are still in their teens. They wear confusion and defeat in their eyes. There to greet them is the bullish Danish army sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller). Scornful of the Germans for their bloody five-year occupation of his country, and intent on punishing what’s left of their army, he marches his squad out on the dunes each day to prod for mines. Yet this seemingly endless task soon starts to look like a bloodletting, and even Rasmussen grows conflicted in his feelings toward his young charges.

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Country: Denmark/​Germany

Language: Danish, German, English

Program: Platform // Festival website

Men and Chicken.jpg 2

Men and Chicken (MÆND OG HØNS)

When brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (a near-unrecognizable Mads Mikkelsen, sporting an outlandishly fake moustache) reunite to lay their father to rest, they’re confronted with an unsettling bit of news: they were actually sired by someone they’ve never met. Seeking clues as to the origins of their respective hang-ups — Gabriel is a permanently depressed academic whose relationships fail disastrously, while Elias is a troubled loner who can’t seem to go more than an hour without performing a certain bodily function — the brothers head to the almost uninhabited island of Ork to meet their biological father. Arriving at the patriarch’s dilapidated mansion, Gabriel and Elias meet their three other brothers, who live according to their father’s baroquely bizarre rules and whose peculiarities make Gabriel and Elias look well-adjusted. Confronted with all manner of weirdness, Gabriel begins to unravel the family’s myriad mysteries.

Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

Country: Denmark

Language: Danish

Program: Vanguard // Festival website


Return of the Atom (ATOMIN PALUU)

Filmed over the course of more than a decade, this vital new documentary by Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola examines the now-notorious construction of a nuclear power plant on the remote Finnish island of Olkiluoto — the first nuclear facility to be approved for construction in a Western country following the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986. Announced with triumphant fanfare when the project began in 2004, the plant was supposed to signal the re-emergence of fusion-based plants in Europe, usher in a new, eco-friendly age of nuclear power, and serve as a glorious example of the benefits of public-private partnerships. To put it plainly, things have not exactly worked out that way.

Director: Mika Taanila, Jussi Eerola

Country: Finland/Germany

Language: Finnish, English, French, German, Polish, Russian

Program: TIFF docs // Festival website




A product of the early-eighties artistic boom in Iceland, which saw the arrival of punk and paved the way for such musicians as Björk and Sigur Rós, Gudni was an adherent to the modish painting techniques of the period. At the same time, he began to secretly paint landscape scenes (which were out of fashion at the time), selectively utilizing modern approaches to veer his work towards near-abstraction while endowing his work with a profound sense of the spiritual. (It’s this work that earned him an international following, inspiring collectors such as Viggo Mortensen.)

The film’s attempts to duplicate Gudni’s ways of seeing the landscape are frequently breathtaking. One discerns a deep aesthetic kinship between the painter and the filmmaker. Both a heartfelt appreciation of an artistic colleague and an oblique artistic manifesto, Horizon is a visually striking excursion into the spirit of a land.

Director:Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Bergur Bernburg


Language:Icelandic, English, Danish

Program: TIFF docs // Festival website


Despite the fact that they live on neighbouring farms, Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) have not spoken to one another in forty years, their intermittent and grudging communications carried out via letters carried by Kiddi’s dog. Their rivalry reaches its height in the valley’s annual competition for best ram, which Kiddi has won several times. After once again losing the prize to the boastful, hard-living Kiddi, the stern and solitary Gummi spots a dead sheep in Kiddi’s field, and soon begins to notice symptoms of the lethal and highly contagious disease scrapie in his neighbour’s flock. Veterinary authorities quickly arrive in the valley and decree drastic measures that may mean disaster for the entire region, and that the two men determine to resist, each in his distinctive way.

Director:Grímur Hákonarson



Program: Contemporary world cinema // Festival website




Sixteen-year-old Ari (Atli Óskar Fjalarsson) enjoys a vibrant and enjoyable life in Reykjavik. But when his mother leaves for Angola with her new husband, he must return to his hometown, a sparsely populated fishing village where his father Gunnar (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) still lives like a teenager, pissing away his weekends with drug-and-booze-fuelled bacchanals. Gunnar hasn’t shown any interest in Ari for years and has no idea how to relate to him, and little desire to either. The only bright spots for Ari in his grim new surroundings are his ailing grandmother and his childhood buddy Lana (Rakel Björk Björnsdóttir), who is in a relationship with a dimwitted local thug. As Ari tries to settle in, things get more difficult — and when he realizes just how deep this town’s immoral streak runs, he is forced to choose between telling the truth and protecting those he loves.

Director:Rúnar Rúnarsson


Language:English, Icelandic

Program: Contemporary world cinema // Festival website

Trapped (ÓFÆRÐ)

Andri (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson of The Deep) may be his town’s chief of police, but that doesn’t mean he has a lot of crime to deal with. A quiet Icelandic community on a spectacular fjord, it’s a close-knit place where kids travel to school in packs through the long winters, where you know if your neighbour’s ex-wife is coming to visit, where nobody’s business is private. At town hall, elected officials plan to turn the place into a key international port of trade, but out on the streets, the most grievous offence that Andri has to contend with is illegal parking — until a fisherman’s net snags a human torso floating off the coast.

Suspecting that a nearby Danish passenger ferry might be the site of foul play, Andri detains the boat and the onboard civilians in hope of catching the killer. But an impending snowstorm locks everyone in place, stranding the police without their expert investigation team — and when the ornery boat captain makes some brash decisions that spin things farther out of control, Andri finds himself in charge of a dangerously unstable situation with international implications.

Director:Baltasar Kormákur


Language:Icelandic, Danish, English

Program: Primetime // Festival website



Bird Hearts

Bird Hearts

Benjamin’s insecurities bubble to the surface when his girlfriend Maya recounts a past sexual escapade in Brazil — and a quarter-life crisis ensues. Bird Heartscleverly dissects Nordic liberalism and the fragility of the male ego.

Director:Halfdan Olav Ullmann Tøndel



Program: Short Cuts // Festival Website


Homesick (DE NÆRMESTE)

Charlotte has no outlet or salve for her anger in the people around her: her mother isn’t exactly one for listening to or caring about other people’s problems; her father is dying; her best friend Marte (Silje Storstein) has recently gotten married and is now too busy; and even her shrink cuts her short. Enter one of the few people who understands Charlotte’s pain: her standoffish half-brother Henrik (Simon J. Berger), who was abandoned by Charlotte’s mother at a young age and who pines for an imaginary, impossible home life in the same way Charlotte does. This shared yearning brings the two closer and closer together, until they are finally tempted to violate one of humanity’s oldest taboos.

Director:Anne Sewitsky


Language:Norwegian, Swedish

Program: Contemporary world cinema // Festival Website

louder than bombs

Louder Than Bombs

Gene Reed (Gabriel Byrne) is an aging high-school teacher who, while grappling with the sudden death of his photojournalist wife Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert), is also experiencing difficulties connecting with his youngest son Conrad (Devin Druid), a painfully shy loner who finds his only outlet on the internet. When Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), Gene’s wunderkind eldest son — a promising young academic who has become an insufferably moralizing pedant — returns to the family home almost immediately after the birth of his first child, Gene seizes upon the opportunity to try and mend the rifts in the familial fabric. This last-chance bid for reconciliation is made all the more urgent by an upcoming, posthumous exhibition of Isabelle’s work, which may lead to a public revelation of some of the Reeds’ darker secrets.

Director:Joachim Trier



Program: Special presentations // Festival Website

Oslo’s Rose

For more than two years, Nader has been head over heels in love with Janne but unable to let her know — an untenable situation for both his work and creativity. At last, one night at the bar, it appears Nader may be able to finally speak and free himself from the writer’s block that has plagued him.

Director:The Sporadic Film Collective



Program: Short cuts // Festival Website


The Wave (BØLGEN)

Nestled in Norway’s Sunnmøre region, Geiranger is one of the most spectacular tourist draws on the planet. With the mountain Åkerneset overlooking the village — and constantly threatening to collapse into the fjord — it is also a place where cataclysm could strike at any moment. After putting in several years at Geiranger’s warning centre, geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is moving on to a prestigious gig with an oil company. But the very day he’s about to drive his family to their new life in the city, Kristian senses something isn’t right. The substrata are shifting. No one wants to believe that this could be the big one, especially with tourist season at its peak, but when that mountain begins to crumble, every soul in Geiranger has ten minutes to get to high ground before a tsunami hits, consuming everything in its path.

Director: Roar Uthaug



Program: Special Presentations // Festival Website


Girls Lost (POJKARNA)

Kim, Bella, and Momo are inseparable friends who are brutally persecuted by their classmates. One night after another bad day at school, the girls get drunk and decide to taste the strange juice oozing from a mysterious flower that was sent to the horticulturally inclined Momo by mistake. Passing out almost immediately after imbibing the liquid, the girls wake up some time later — as boys. Intrigued by the changes to their bodies and surging with a new self-confidence, the friends set out to discover what it’s like to live in a man’s world. But excitement turns to potential danger when one of the trio begins to embrace her new identity too enthusiastically, and unexpected feelings suddenly emerge.
Director: Alexandra-Therese Keining



Program: Contempoary World Cinema // Festival Website

Grannys Dancing on the Table

Granny’s Dancing on the Table

Eini (Blanka Engström) is a young girl who lives deep in the Swedish forests with her father (Lennart Jähkel). First seen berating his daughter for accidentally breaking a glass and then trying to hide the evidence, Eini’s father is a fierce control freak and religious zealot who regularly and ritualistically counts up the household’s meagre possessions as a means of discovering Eini’s infractions of his tyrannical rules.

The deep roots of this family psychosis are revealed through a parallel narrative, related through animated sequences that depict the religiously inspired abuse of the women of Eini’s family. This dreadful tradition dates back to Eini’s grandmother, who becomes a figure of almost mythic import for Eini — both as a symbol of freedom, and as the reason for the girl’s suffering in the present.

Director: Hanna Sköld


Language: English, Swedish

Program: Contempoary World Cinema // Festival Website


The Here After (EFTERSKALV)

In the film’s oblique but quietly menacing opening, gawky teenager John (played by Swedish pop star Ulrik Munther) is picked up from an undefined institution by his father (Mats Blomgren). Returning to his home in a rural farming community, John is welcomed by the locals with evident fear and hatred for the as-yet unspecified action that led to his insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion.

As John silently endures daily torment from his high-school classmates — and his peers’ parents orchestrate a campaign to remove him from the community — the sole bright spots in his life are his younger brother and a new girl at school, Malin (Loa Ek), who is drawn to him both through her curiosity about his dark past and her sympathy for his present vulnerability.

Director: Magnus von Horn


Language: English, Swedish

Program: Discovery // Festival Website

My Skinny Sister

My Skinny Sister (MIN LILLA SYSTER)


Like many sisters, Stella (Rebecka Josephson) and Katja (Amy Deasismont) share a nuanced and complicated relationship. Katja, a beautiful and successful competitive figure skater, is disciplined both on and off the ice in order to maintain excellence and the praise of her busy parents. Awkward twelve-year-old Stella is struggling to come into her own as she begins to explore her sexuality, which has manifested in a crush on Katja’s skating coach.

Stella endures the pressures of early adolescence in the shadow of her older sister, who teases her endlessly. Yet when Katja’s moody behaviour intensifies around mealtimes, Stella can’t help but be suspicious about her unhealthy eating habits. When confronted, Katja threatens to reveal Stella’s own secret and puts their sisterly bond on the line in order to keep their parents in the dark. The girls’ bickering and their love for one another intersect as they struggle to maintain outward appearances. Ultimately, Stella is forced to weigh her loyalty against Katja’s deteriorating health as their secret threatens to fracture their already-fragile family.

Director: Sanna Lenken


Language: Swedish, English

Program: TIFF Kids // 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.