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The International Film Festival Rotterdam

The International Film Festival Rotterdam has long ceased to be a place to find cutting-edge European cinema; true to form, its 46th edition featured only a scattering of Nordic films that seemed selected at random. The biggest miss among the Scandinavian titles was also the biggest hit: the world premiere of Denmark’s The Man, a comedy/drama about a big-shot Copenhagen painter and his estranged son, a street-famous graffiti artist. The story evidently impressed many viewers, as it ended up #9 in the festival’s audience poll. But it’s dismayingly shallow and has nothing to recommend besides Søren Malling (best known for supporting roles in TV’s The Killing and Borgen) in his first leading turn as the obnoxious father.

We’ll leave aside Sami Blood, since it’s still raking in awards everywhere it goes, and move on to two unexceptional but entertaining music documentaries. Fonko vividly examines the current evolution of club music in several African countries; if the film doesn’t quite manage to make the case that the music was worth it, the interview subjects are engaging and articulate enough to maintain interest. This is not always the case in Blackhearts, which focuses on the worldwide appeal of Norway’s black metal scene and is mainly comprised of interviews with fawning international artists who travel to the land of their heroes. Their love of the abrasive music is clearly genuine, but the filmmakers fail to question some of the men’s attraction to the stupidity sometimes associated with the genre (violent atheism, pornographic rituals). The most touching story is that of a seasoned Iranian black metal guitarist/vocalist who’s never been allowed to perform live, and finally makes his stage debut during a metal festival in Norway.

Back in 2009, Croatia-born Ivica Zubak directed Dreams, a not very original, but entertaining story about a group of teenage immigrant hoodlums in Stockholm. He’s back with A Hustlers Diary, about a young Turkish-Swedish petty criminal who maintains a diary of his and his friends’ exploits, which eventually catches the eye of a bourgeois publisher who smells a best-seller. The story may be far-fetched, but the film has an exhilarating opening half hour: the editing style matches the foul-mouthed thug’s nervous energy to wonderful effect. Can Demirtas had a bit part in Dreams, but was clearly destined to star; he co-wrote this film’s screenplay and remains an electrifying enough presence to carry most of it. It falls apart when it starts to take itself too seriously, but must be ranked as a superior Swedish ’ghetto’ comedy on the strength of Demirtas’ role.

Finally, The Giant, the agreeably oddball debut feature of Johannes Nyholm, a former music video director and claymation artist who gained some notoriety by casting his baby daughter as a drunken slob among puppet figures in 2011’s Las Palmas. The Giant is not as uproarious as that one, but has enough going for it to merit attention. Nyholm’s disabled, disfigured and pint-sized hero Rikard is longing for the love of his mother, who rejected him, and also for a shot at the Nordic petanque finals. But after one incident too many, he’s booted from his local club, and his mother clearly can’t handle his attempts at a reunion. Such stories either end badly or unrealistically, but Nyholm is smart enough to realise the limitations of tragicomedy. Rather than going for schmaltz or wishful thinking, The Giant suggests that there is no place for Rikard in Swedish society, and solves the problem by creating a fantastical dimension for him to eventually disappear in. Aided by a beautiful, Morricone-inflected score by Gothenburg’s rock legend Björn Olsson, Nyholm just about gets away with it.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam took place between the 25th of January and the 5th of February in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.