Among the biggest Scandinavian cinematic success stories in the last few years has been the Danish Reunion films. The first from 2011 starred Troels Lyby, Nicolaj Kopernicus and Anders W. Berthelsen as Thomas, Niels and Andreas, three old friends joining up for a class reunion. Two sequels followed, one about a funeral in 2014, and one about a Baptism in 2016, and Finnish versions of the two first ones came out in 2015 and 2016. While reviews haven’t always been kind to the silly films and their many sex-obsessed jokes— the trailer for Luokkakokous 2 even gleefully quoted the worst reviews as a badge of honor – the success among audiences has been enormous, with hundreds of thousands of tickets sold, and new versions being talked about for Latvia, Holland and Germany. Cinema Scandinavia spoke to Troels Lyby about the reasons for the international success of the films.
There’s no doubt that the Reunion films speaks to an audience. But what speaks to audiences across borders can be hard to define. Troels Lyby guesses it might be the themes: ‘Perhaps with these films we’re looking at men who have typical western European values and flaws. And perhaps midlife crisis, I don’t know if that’s a new phenomenon, or something that belongs to our generation with material surplus and new norms for men. Modern men can do a lot of things, but perhaps miss clearly established identities that for good or bad existed before […] The types are recognizable for most of the western world.’
While this might sound like over-thinking of comedic films where the gags are often centered around sex, violence and assorted violence done to reproductive organs, Lyby says that the actors have to focus more on the characters and themes. ‘We are actors, the three of us, so perhaps we work more on what the story is, and what are the problems and the drives with these three people. Perhaps that’s what we automatically focus on instead of on gags and jokes.’ Lyby continues. ‘I think it’s about being honest to the characters, not play too much comedy, and trust that the situations are funny enough on their own.’ The writers seem to focus on character and story too. The third Reunion opens with three dream-sequences, one for each character, effectively showing the fears and anxieties that will be exploited over the rest of the film. Divorcee Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen) dreams of having his whole family together again, including his disapproving father. Infertile Thomas dreams of having his own son, leading to the frightening visual of Troels Lyby’s head on a baby. And while Niels’ (Nicolaj Kopernicus) dreams seem small, a new job and a visit to the bathroom, we soon learn of the medical reason for his troubles. The films deal with dark issues, health scares, emasculation, as frameworks to hold the gross-out gags together.
And beneath the darkness, the nudity, the pettiness, there’s warmth as well: It’s three friends who care about each other. They want to help each other. They’re just really bad at it. Bad at figuring out what’s good for the others, but they want to. They do as good as they can, but sometimes it’s not enough. This warmth came naturally with the casting, as the three main actors has known each other for years: ‘We know each other really well, Nicolaj and I studied at the same school in the same year, so we’ve known each other since 1990. Anders went to another school, but we knew them as well, so we’ve known each other for a long time.’ This allowed an easy chemistry between the main characters – who’s names begins with the same letters as the actors – in a series that originated with a story exactly of a class reunion.
While the humour in the series drew comparisons with the American Hangover trilogy, there’s no doubt that the Reunion films goes deeper into the anxieties and flaws- of it’s leading trio. The trio are about a decade older than their American counterparts, and there’s a corresponding vulnerability and mellowness in the films. Perhaps that’s typically Scandinavian. If Bergman was remaking the Hangover films, he would probably include a subplot about prostate cancer as well.
The Reunion 3 / Klassefesten 3: Dåben / Directed by Birger Larsen / Produced by Rene Ezra & Tomas Radoor for Nordisk Film / Written by Claudia Boderke & Lars Mering / Starring Anders W. Berthelsen, Troels Lyby & Nicolaj Kopernikus / Local release date 6th October 2016