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The Nordic films screening at the Berlin Film Festival 9/2/2017 – 19/2/2017

Denmark

Loving Pia

Directed by Daniel Borgman

Screening in the Forum

Sixty-year-old Pia is intellectually disabled and lives with her ageing mother Guittou in a farmhouse on the Danish island of Langeland. She dreams of meeting a man. She dreams of a Frenchman named José from Larzac, who she knows from television and with whom she could make pizza and rosehip juice. The days come and go. Pia does exercises and strolls along the beach; she reads books, visits a day centre in the city and looks after her goose Lola with tenderness. Her conversations with her mother focus on the future – how and where will Pia live once Guittou dies? One day Pia meets Jens at the harbour. The two of them get talking and start spending time together. They go to Copenhagen for a weekend and visit the Den Blå Planet aquarium.
At Elske Pia spins a fictional tale that is based on Pia’s real life and is embedded in her everyday routines. With gentleness and lyricism, Daniel Borgman allows his protagonist’s thoughts, dreams and wishes to inform the story. An impressive hybrid film shot on 16 mm, a declaration of love to Pia.

Below the Surface

Directed by Kasper Barfoed

Screening in Berlinale Special Series

Fifteen people are taken hostage on an underground train but the government refuses to pay the ransom. That is why relatives turn to a popular TV presenter to help them rekindle the debate – with all the political consequences that entails.

Half and Half

Directed by Aka Hansen

Screening in Indigenous Cinema

Wholes and halves. Greenlandic, Danish, or both? Filmmaker Aka Hansen poses simple yet pointed questions around her mixed heritage. She challenges the stereotypical perception of identity by those around her. Tangled emotions and neat, symmetric imagery are in contrast to describe her state of being.

A Trip to Mars

Directed by Das Himmelsschiff

Screening in Retrospective

Avanti Planetaros, previously a captain of the seven seas, sets out for Mars in a spaceship built by his astronomer father. The journey is not without its troubles – the American ‘astronaut’ David Dane turns to alcohol and there is the threat of mutiny. Arriving on Mars, the crew of the “Excelsior” meets a highly-developed society of pacifists and vegetarians; these Martians even forgive the earthlings a rash use of firearms. Avanti Planetaros finds his “soul mate” in the person of Marya, daughter of the wise ruling elder. She accompanies him on the journey home in order to help humanity return to reason … The film delivered a message of peace during World War I. Probably inspired by a utopian novel by Albert Daiber (“Die Weltensegler”, Sailors Among Worlds, 1910), Himmelskibet paints a picture of The Other as the ideal of an enlightened, spiritually and morally superior society. Then modern technical achievements in cinematography and aviation meet Hellenic robes and floral Art Nouveau shapes. That is one of the reasons why this early “blockbuster”, which played a significant role in the cultural historiography of Aby Warburg (1866 – 1929), can clearly be considered one of the “spring flowers” of the genre.

Strong Island

Directed by Yance Ford

Screening in Panorama Documentary

In a phone call at the beginning of Yance Ford’s film an employee of the district attorney refuses to make any more statements regarding the murder of William Ford and declares herself unwilling to take part in his documentary. William was Yance Ford’s brother; his murder in 1992 threw his family into a state of shock. Their devastation came about not just because this young Afro-American man was shot and killed by a white car mechanic for an apparently trifling reason, but also because of what was to follow. Ford’s subjective camera tells the story of a black middle-class family in America, a country which was, and still is, characterised by injustice and racism. His film is a puzzle, the pieces of which cannot be put together. Interweaving personal essay, detective investigation and documentary interviews with friends and relatives, he succeeds in painting a personal and political picture of the mood of this unequal country during the Obama era. Ford’s concentrated, often minimalistic cinematic language describes simmering anger, grief and his own transgender coming out – as well as the relativity of equal opportunities.

Finland

Jokinen

Directed by Laura Horelli

Screening in Forum Expanded

In 1931, the so-called Yokinen Trial, organized by the Communist Party of the USA in Harlem, New York, brought the Finnish immigrant August Jokinen to public attention. Jokinen, a janitor at the Finnish Worker’s Club, was accused of not defending three African-American communists who had been mistreated at one of the club’s dances. Following his admittance of guilt, Jokinen became an outspoken civil rights advocate until he was arrested for membership in the Communist Party and subsequently deported to Finland. Laura Horelli tells Jokinen’s migration tale as a mixture between historical research, detective story, and arts and crafts club. Arranging her archival findings – ranging from newspaper articles to books and historical photographs – on a physical desktop, she constructs a narrative by positioning, highlighting, cutting out, masking, and coloring. Her ‘analogue desktop-documentary’ follows August Jokinen’s public story all the way to the present, to a mailbox message on a Russian mobile phone.

Studies on the Ecology of Drama

Directed by Eija-Liisa Ahtila

Screening in Forum Expanded

“How to depict living things? How to approach them? How to convey a different way of being, another being’s world? How to make it into a continuous event that becomes part of our idea of reality?” Studies on the Ecology of Drama uses the methods of presentation as a path to the company of other living beings. It expands upon the issues of ecological moving image narrative, focussing on presentation, imaging, and imagination in the context of the moving image.
Making the ecology of drama visible requires establishing a reflexive distance and a representational dimension whereby the processes of technological recording and the expressive devices of the moving image can be made perceivable. A human actor leads us through the argument of the film. In the style of a lecture performance she introduces the themes of the work by conducting reduction exercises with the surroundings: a field, a forest, a garden, a corral. Other performers in the work include a bush, a juniper tree, a common swift, a horse, a brimstone butterfly, and a group of human acrobats.

The Other Side of Hope

Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Screening in Competition

This film tells two stories that converge after forty minutes. The first of these features Khaled, a Syrian refugee. A stowaway on a coal freighter, he ends up in Helsinki where he applies for asylum without much hope of success. Wikström, the second main character, is a travelling salesman peddling ties and men’s shirts. Turning his back on his trade, he instead decides to put his poker face to good use at a gambling table and subsequently buys himself a restaurant in the remotest corner of Helsinki. When the authorities turn down Khaled’s application, he decides to remain in the country illegally, like so many other people who share his fate. Going underground in the Finnish capital, he lives on the streets and encounters all kinds of racism, but also some cool rock ’n’ rollers and genuine friendship. One day Wikström discovers Khaled sleeping in the dark backyard behind his restaurant. He provides him with a bed and a job. For a while, these two band together with the restaurant’s waitress, the chef and his dog to form a utopian union – one of Aki Kaurismäki’s typical communities bound together by fate which demonstrates that the world could and should be a better place.

Norway

Rebels

Directed by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers

Screening in Indigenous Cinema

Children tend to blame themselves for their parents’ unhappiness. In a moving personal essay, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers examines her complex relationship to her Sámi father, starting with the story of how he met her Blackfoot mother and how this blissful transatlantic romance was affected by his silent suffering. His estrangement had roots she could not grasp, painful wounds shared by many Sámi of his generation. The visual style mixes colorful animation with realism, capturing the essence of each stage in the story.

Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest

Directed by Katja Gauriloff

Screening in Indigenous Cinema

After a life of ill health, the young Swiss author Robert Crottet feels a calling to go to the Arctic and meet the people of the North. He is welcomed by the Skolt Sámi – and is mesmerized by the richness of their oral traditions, especially the unique storytelling gift of the lively matriarch Kaisa Gauriloff. After being acknowledged by the forest, he is permitted to record the stories and legends as told by Kaisa. These hypnotizing tales are illustrated with delightful storybook-style animation that intertwine with Robert’s biographical impressions as well as grim historical events around them. The war had an appalling impact on the Skolt Sámis’ lives and lands, and no matter how resilient they were, they could not salvage all of their ancient practices. Kaisa’s great-granddaughter Katja Gauriloff directs this film as a portrayal of Robert’s poetic admiration of Kaisa and her enchanted world.

From the Balcony

Directed by Ole Giæver

Screening in Panorama

A man is standing on a balcony. Just as he inspects the passers-by on the street, he begins to examine his stream of consciousness. Feeling experimental, he titillates his taste buds with a raw egg, locates his flat on a virtual aerial shot of Oslo, contemplates nature by taking in the view of a mountain range, or transports himself back in an old home video to his teenage self, dreaming of a new identity. Time and again, his thoughts return to his daily life: how does his son experience time? What kind of a life will his daughter lead? Where does his wife feel most at home? What defines his relationship to them, to himself and for that matter to creation itself? After his previous fictional voyage of self-discovery, Mot Naturen, Ole Giæver trains his gaze on his own universe. Blending brutally honest admissions, meditative reflections and a portion of humour he takes us on an expedition to plumb the depths of human existence. Lightness and charm pervade this mixture of animation, photographs, video clips and documentary footage. As he shapes his vision into a cinematic collage, Giæver manages to enthuse us with his curiosity about the world – and shows us our place within it.

Bright Nights

Directed by Thomas Arslan

Screening in Competition

Austrian civil engineer Michael lives with his girlfriend in Berlin. For years, he has barely had any contact with his 14-year-old son Luis. When Michael’s father dies the two nonetheless travel together to the funeral which is held in the remote north of Norway. At the deceased’s secluded home Michael begins to pack up his late father’s personal items – watched in silence by his son. Two people who barely know each other are suddenly caught in an intimate situation. After the funeral, Michael surprises Luis by suggesting that they spend a few days together exploring the region. A road movie begins that is also a journey into their non-existent shared past. Being together turns out to be more difficult than expected. Never having spent any time with each other on a daily basis, they have trouble handling their relationship. Whilst Michael glosses over this situation, Luis can’t hide how hurt he is. His father’s long years of absence stand between them like a wall. When they are in the car together it feels like the calm before a storm. During the long days of the summer solstice, days when the sun never sets, Michael tries to break the repetitive cycle and find a joint way forward.

The King’s Choice

Directed by Erik Poppe

Screening in Panorama Special

On 9 April 1940 the German army invades Norway without having declared war. The Norwegians’ conviction that their consistently neutral policies would protect them from Hitler’s aggressive plans has proved to be a grave mistake. Confusion and chaos soon spread. With Hitler’s blessing, fascist leader Quisling stands poised to become Norway’s Minister-President. But the Norwegian royal family refuses to bend to the will of the Germans. King Haakon VII, who has left Oslo for the village of Nybergsund with his family, his government and countless politicians, proves to be a bastion of calm: should the Norwegian parliament decide to capitulate and bow to the demands from Berlin he will, he declares, abdicate without hesitation. Hitler answers this moral gauntlet with bomb attacks; the Norwegians however interpret the King’s words as an appeal to resist. Erik Poppe’s impressive historical epic is part chamber piece and part battle painting. At the same time his film is an anthem to those who exhibit pride, dignity and courage in the face of oppressive political circumstances.

Sámi Moment

Directed by Ken Are Bongo

Screening in Indigenous Cinema

On a small hill in the wintry tundra, two reindeer herders arrive by snowmobile to contemplate the wide horizon. Impassive, they share a cigarette and hardly any words, which is all they need to form a tight bond. This story uses dry humor to denote a distinctive way of connecting, where the white surroundings fill the silence and less is more.

Oskar’s America

Directed by Torfinn Iversen

Screening in Generation K Plus

‘I want to go to America with you and Horsie. Because you’re the only one who tells the truth.’

With its moving tale of extraordinary friendship against the backdrop of a broken family, Torfinn Iversen’s debut feature film sees a return to some of the themes and characters from his short film Levis Hest (Generation 14plus, 2012). Oskar’s dream of spending the holidays with his mother on horseback on the prairie collides with dreary reality as she drops him off with his cantankerous grandfather for the summer. She must go to America alone at first, to find a job. Levi, a social outcast who talks with his pony, becomes Oskar’s only friend. When Levi has to go to a care home and Oskar’s mother does not return, the two of them hatch a plan: using Levi’s great-grandfather’s boat, they will row across the Atlantic to America.

Odd is an Egg

Directed by Kristin Ulseth

Screening in Generation KPlus

When the other children are playing, Odd prefers to keep to himself. He does not like it all when there is a lot of commotion and running about, with balls flying past his head – for Odd is as fragile as a raw egg. That is, until the boisterous and fearless Gunn, who can fly like a bee, pushes him to overcome his deeply-rooted anxiety. With her, Odd has so much fun that he completely forgets to mind his head. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Sweden

Sami Blood

Directed by Amanda Kernell

Screening in Indigenous Cinema

In the 1930s, Elle Marja is forced to leave her reindeer-breeding Sámi family to attend boarding school far away from home, a typical practice at that time. In the midst of adolescence, she is as strong-minded as she is rebellious and she knows how to hide her feelings all too well, even from herself. She strives for the approval of her teachers by outshining her classmates in adapting to Swedish culture, which she has been taught is far superior to her own. Yearning to fit into a society that is not truly open to welcoming her people, she suffers discrimination and psychological cruelty. Still, she would rather completely forsake her roots if it helped her to fit in. Amanda Kernell’s outstanding debut feature offers an insightful commentary on the abuse imposed upon the Sámi by official institutions, subtly rendering a disturbing atmosphere which provokes empathetic indignation.

Up in the Sky

Directed by Petter Lennstrand

Screening in Generation KPlus

‘There are no cops in space. No rules.’ · ‘And parents don’t need to work all the time. At least not when it’s your birthday.’

Pottan is supposed to be spending her holidays at a pony farm, but her parents, who are always busy, end up leaving their eight-year-old daughter at a recycling yard by mistake. After a short discussion, the strange residents of the yard decide to take in the girl and she unexpectedly becomes part of a secret space mission. They are all sure that up there they will find fabulous treasures and the fulfillment of their dreams. Petter Lennstrand’s life-size puppets are already well known to Swedish TV viewers. In his debut feature film, his cheeky, unconventional characters tell a tale of friendship and the meaning of seemingly unimportant things.

My Gay Sister

Directed by Lia Hietala

Screening in Generation KPlus

Ten-year-old Cleo has a head full of questions: How can I tell if I’m in love with somebody? How do I know if I prefer boys or girls? Since her older sister began dating another girl, there are new, strange feelings stirring inside Cleo. During a trip to the Norwegian fjords, she broaches the subject with the young couple and is given some helpful advice.

Loving Lorna

Directed by Annika Karlsson & Jessica Karlsson

Screening in Generation 14Plus

‘Being up with the horses, up at the stables, it’s kind of dragged me away from the trouble and just turned me into a good kid.’

Horses have been part of daily life for generations in the deprived Dublin suburb of Ballymun – and for 17-year-old Lorna and her family too. Her unemployed father finds structure and purpose in daily life by caring for his horses, while her sick mother wistfully remembers the days when she used to turn heads as she galloped through the town. These days it’s Lorna who likes to spend all her free time in the stable or riding Bigfoot, her horse. She’s long since set her heart on becoming a farrier when she leaves school – if only it weren’t for her constant back pain. A poetic film about longing, happiness, dreams and the transient nature of life.

The Comet

Directed by Victor Lindgren

Screening in Berlinale Shorts

The sea. High waves. Dark water. A border fence, two men in hiding. Their flight begins. Only one of them will reach Sweden.
One of the men is played by Abdi Aziis, who himself has fled from Somalia to Sweden in order to escape the oppression and persecution of gay men. “He is our comet” explains director Victor Lindgren, who, in merely a few selected situations, manages to convey the exertions, the deep abyss, the arrival and the loneliness of those who flee. Both men lay alongside each other on a bench, one arm extended across the other’s belly – an image that symbolizes their intimacy, their shared experience. And in the next moment it’s all gone. Forever. How can life go on?
Victor Lindgren’s film Ta av mig was conferred with a TEDDY Award for Best Short Film at the 2013 Berlinale.

 

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.