The programme for this year’s BFI London Film Festival has been announced, and it looks pretty amazing!
A number of Scandinavian films will have their international premieres, and we are forever jealous of the Londoners who get to go see these films. First up is Darling, the new Danish film starring Danica Curcicas a ballet dancer who suffers an injury and then has to train her replacement as her husband, Frans, choreographs the production and gets closer to the new girl. Also from Denmark is the latest Søren Malling film, Word of God. This comedy stars Malling as a domineering father who uses the family living room for some pretty weird therapy sessions. Knowing Søren Malling, this film looks like it’ll be a lot of fun. Meanwhile, Norwegian director Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken premieres his latest film (he’s the Norwegian pumping out multiple films at once), Going West, which sounds amazing.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from the 4th until the 15th of October 2017 and you can view the festival website here.
Directed by Birgitte Stærmose
Starring Danica Curcic, Gustaf Skarsgård, Ulrich Thomsen
Showcasing a wealth of exquisite choreography and underpinned by a fine script, this provocative drama elegantly probes the nature of creative collaboration and the passage of success. International superstar ballerina ‘Darling’ (Danica Curcic) and her husband Frans (Gustaf Skarsgård, Vikings) return to the Royal Danish Ballet company in Copenhagen where Darling is to dance the lead in Giselle. The production, choreographed by Frans, is highly anticipated by the company and the couple themselves, for whom the job is all consuming – perhaps offering the only space where they can truly thrive together. Unquestionably talented but dangerously obsessive, Darling has already pushed herself beyond her limits, and her uncompromising behaviour threatens what promised to be a highpoint in her and Frans’ professional and personal lives. Curcic’s physically and emotionally powerful performance, guided by Birgitte Stærmose’s empathetic but always precise direction, provides an exhilarating depiction of creativity and the pressures of performance.
Word of God
Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz
Starring Søren Malling, Lisa Nilsson, Marcus Sebastian Gert
Welcome to a world of dark and dirty humour that Danes do so well, where pretty much nothing is off limits. It’s 1986, months after the Chernobyl disaster. With nuclear fall-out weighing heavily on his mind, teenage poet Jens could do with a break from his crazy family. His domineering father Uffe (also known as ‘God’), an erstwhile writer and now self-styled psychologist, uses their living room for some seriously weird therapy sessions. Older brother Thomas is a legendary wanker. Literally. He’s holed up in his bedroom trying to break a masturbation record. Their Swedish mum seems pretty cool, although she’s not above asking the local hooker over to help relieve her boy of his virginity ‘problem’. But when ‘God’ gets bowled a medical bombshell, a fresh circle of hell breaks loose… And it’s one hell of a hoot.
Directed by Hlynur Pálmason
Starring Elliott Crosset Hove, Simon Sears, Lars Mikkelsen
Savagely beautiful and shot mainly on 16mm, Icelandic visual artist and filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason brings a unique perspective to bear with his debut feature. Pálmason’s rendering of the hermetic world of brothers and limestone quarry workers Emil and Johan exhibits both an outsider’s clarity of view and an artist’s visionary imagination. We follow the daily routines, habits and rituals of the siblings and their co-workers amidst a wintry industrial landscape. Disorienting sounds and abstract visuals create a visceral impression of constricted lives, where tension and violence simmer close to the surface. Emil may live and work cheek-by-jowl with others, but human connection and sexual intimacy are painfully absent, so he attempts to seek some solace in VHS-inflected reveries, homemade liquor and graphic fantasies. Pálmason’s economic and arresting storytelling hints at a more significant personal odyssey, but his open and reflexive approach ultimately invites you to draw your own conclusions.
The Mærsk Opera
Directed by Superflex
A work of staggering ambition in production and storytelling that matches the stature of its controversial subject – one of Europe’s most contentious building projects. The Mærsk Opera is a musical reworking of the machinations behind the construction of the giant edifice of Copenhagen’s new opera house. It was donated to the city of Copenhagen by the late Mærsk McKinney-Møller, the world’s largest shipping owner and Denmark’s richest man. But there were conditions. It had to be built in the harbour on the sightline between a famous church and the royal palace. The musical composition by Anders Monrad, with libretto by Nikolaj Heltoft, brings to life a cast of characters both real and imaginary. The film deploys an incredible array of techniques, from animation to documentary, to tell this tale of hubris and hypocrisy which witnesses government officials and a city’s population seduced by the grand ambitions of the global capitalist.
Directed by Elvira Lind
Captivating dancer Bobbi Jene, star of the Israeli dance company Batsheva, lays herself bare as she embarks on a solo career in this sensitive and richly layered documentary. ‘It made me want to puke, or come, or both at the same time’. This is how Bobbi Jene recalls her first experience with Gaga, the dance movement created by acclaimed choreographer Ohad Naharin (Mr. Gaga, LFF2015). After spending ten years in Batsheva, under the instruction of Naharin, Jene finally decides to go home to the US and explore her own creativity as a choreographer. Director Elvira Lind joins her, subtly capturing the young woman’s ambitions, doubts, and creative process. The extensive rehearsal and performance footage, intertwined with observational moments of Jene’s life with her mother or in the intimacy of her relationship with her boyfriend, unveil a brave, hugely talented and unconventional artist, who pushes the limits of her body and mind.
A Moment in the Reeds
Directed by Mikko Makela
Starring Janne Puustinen, Boodi Kabbani, Mika Melender
Mikko Makela’s stunning debut explores the relationship between two men, set against an idyllic Finnish summer. Whilst visiting his estranged father, Leevi meets Tareq, a handsome Syrian immigrant employed to restore the family lake house. Leevi’s father departs for the city, leaving the two men alone in the beautiful remote countryside and enabling them to act on their impulses and the chemistry that clearly exists between them. Far removed from their everyday lives, the only immediate threat to the men’s relationship is the eventual return of Leevi’s father. But there’s also Tareq’s complex relationship with his family back in Syria. Makela sensitively explores the perspectives of both men, who long for some human connection, acceptance and a place to call home. Locating marginalised characters at the forefront of the story, Makela’s film is a very welcome and refreshingly frank portrait of contemporary Finnish society.
Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen
Starring Björn Stefánsson, Sigurður Þór Óskarsson, Aðalbjörg Árnadóttir
Shades of Don’t Look Now permeate this subtle Nordic chiller about two men haunted by an unseen presence. Late one night, Gunnar receives an unexpected call from his ex-boyfriend Einar. Worried about his former partner’s well-being, Gunnar makes the journey to visit Einar at his family home in a remote part of Iceland. Thrust together in the isolated surroundings, painful memories resurface between the two men. But as they attempt to lay the ghosts of their relationship to rest, there is the sense of a very real presence lurking in the shadows. As much a devastating examination of a relationship breakdown as it is a chillingly insidious supernatural nail-biter, Erlingur Thoroddsen’s multi-layered mystery delves deep under the skin of its characters and, in turn, its viewers. Touching upon themes of depression, homophobia and abuse with nuance and subtlety, this is a story of the ghosts that haunt us, both literally and metaphorically.
Directed by Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
Starring Benjamin Helstad, Ingar Helge Gimle, Iben Akerlie
One of the freshest new voices in Norwegian cinema, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken delivers a sweetly delicious, heart-warming and wildly alternative road movie. Glorious fun-filled memories and bittersweet reminiscences pepper this offbeat celebration of life and love. Would-be music teacher Kasper lost his beloved mother Irene some months ago. Before she passed away she implored him to ‘do something fun with Dad’, but Kasper and his rather unconventional father Georg have since struggled to connect. A surprise call to the west coast of Norway offers an opportunity to revitalise their relationship. Campfires, breakdowns, old flames, a man in tights, women with tights on their heads… it’s not going to be a regular road trip. Outstanding writing and direction by Dahlsbakken, together with powerful performances and a great soundtrack, highlight both the humour and poignancy in finding new life and love in the shadow of sadness.
Directed by Joachim Trier
Starring Eili Harboe, Okay Kaya, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen
Acclaimed filmmaker Joachim Trier switches gear for this supernaturally-tinged tale of a young woman’s macabre coming of age. Known for his trio of astute human dramas (Reprise, Oslo, August 31st and Louder Than Bombs), a horror film might seem a bold departure for Trier. Yet this subtle shocker is every bit the kind of intricate character study we have come to expect from the filmmaker, with its genre stylings used to heighten the emotions rather than dictate them. Thelma is a young biology student living away from her strict family for the first time. While she attempts to enjoy her new-found independence, her parents’ influence remains palpable, thanks to regular phone calls in which they check up on their daughter’s every move. But Thelma’s life is turned upside down when she meets beautiful classmate Anja, whose presence appears to awaken long-dormant, supernatural powers within her. Calling to mind the melancholic frights of female-focused coming-of-age tales such as Carrie, Ginger Snaps or, more recently, Julia Ducournau’s Raw, Trier’s imaginative and beautifully realised film places the emotional journey of its heroine front and centre, resulting in an experience as deeply moving as it is slyly chilling.
Directed by Meikeminne Clinckspoor
Starring Daan Roofthooft, Sara Sommerfeld, Ayla Gáren Audhild Nutti
Against his wishes, 12-year-old Niilas is sent away to spend the summer with his estranged mother in Swedish Lapland, among the indigenous reindeer-herding Sami people. Meeting his other family is initially overwhelming, particularly when he is missing his father and home in Belgium. So he resolves to leave as soon as he can. His erratic behaviour results in some alarming near misses, but before long he begins to understand that for all the beauty on display in the natural world there are as many dangers that lurk within it. When a reindeer calf and its mother are separated, he embarks on an ill-advised ‘against the clock’ search, which ultimately forces him to rethink his own relationships with those around him. This is a beautifully shot family adventure about discovering your place in the world and dealing with new and sometimes dangerous situations.
The Nile Hilton Incident
Directed by Tarik Saleh
Starring Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Yaser Aly Maher
Inspired by a real murder case, Tarik Saleh brings Nordic noir sensibilities to the Egyptian capital and a grubby world of personal, political and systemic corruption. Police detective Noredin, as casually amoral as any of his colleagues, is handed the case of a woman found murdered in a bedroom at Cairo’s Nile Hilton Hotel. Noredin initially views the job as just another opportunity to squeeze the usual suspects and hopefully pocket a few more bribes. But as he uncovers the ever more disturbing roots and reach of the crime, the ambivalent antihero finds his conscience piqued. An outstanding performance by Fares Fares (Department Q) as Noredin and an intelligent and nuanced script elevate this story above a conventional procedural drama. It paints an excoriating portrait of endemic corruption, made all the more potent by Metropia (LFF2009) director Saleh’s re-staging of the action to the days before the 2011 Tahir Square demonstrations.
Directed by Jens Assur
Based on Tomas Bannerhed’s celebrated novel The Ravens, award-winning photographer Jens Assur brings a forensic beauty and a deeply imaginative resonance to his mesmerising debut feature. Although close to nature and revelling in the discoveries it holds, young Klas’ hopes and expectations lie far beyond the limited possibilities of his family’s small rural world. Like the migrating birds he loves to study, Klas dreams of escaping the Swedish countryside. However, his father Agne is resigned to a role he never wanted – that of a farmer. Beaten down by disappointment, relentless hard work and a creeping sense that someone wants to harm his livelihood, a madness begins to consume Agne. A story told as much by image and sound as by dialogue, Assur creates an emotionally immediate world where the beauty and violence of nature are ever present. This is powerfully raw filmmaking, by turns arresting and heartbreaking.
All synopses written by the film festival