The Scandinavian Films at the Sydney Film Festival

The Sydney Film Festival in Australia has been announced, and boy are there a lot of Scandinavian films! Taking place between the 3rd and 14th of June, the festival features a ton of big-name Scandinavian films and a special retrospective on Ingmar Bergman. Here they are:

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence [link]

“Swedish cinematic visionary Roy Andersson brings his trademark absurdist humour and singular vision to this winner of the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion. Zipping back and forth through time, and peopled with a bizarre cast of characters, the film is a meticulous tragicomic series of vignettes. Fifteen years in the making, it follows on from the much loved Songs From The Second Floor and You, The Living (SFF 2008), together making up The Living Trilogy. It unites a macho Swedish monarch, a randy Flamenco teacher, a series of rather funny deaths and a rousing musical number. Alongside these humorous snippets of life, we encounter tragic examples of man’s lack of empathy for others, and for animals. Guiding us through this unique take on existence are Sam and Jonathan, two travelling salesmen peddling strange novelty items. The overall effect is immersive and astonishing. Says Andersson: “I envision A Pigeon… as comical from beginning to end, emotional and uplifting. But from time to time, the audience will also witness outbreaks of terror. The range between humour and horror will be profound.””

A Second Chance [link]

Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier (In a Better World; After the Wedding, SFF 2007; Brothers) returns with this powerful dramatic thriller starring a superb Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays Jaime Lannister onGame of Thrones). Coster-Waldau plays Andreas, a promising young detective with a lot on his plate. He and his wife Anne are struggling with their newborn son who cries constantly. Andreas must also try to rein in his recently divorced partner Simon, who is drinking too much. Called to a domestic disturbance, the detectives discover a drug-addicted couple with a young son suffering terrible neglect. When Andreas is faced with a personal tragedy, he makes a decision that will have severe moral and ethical repercussions. Tension-filled and heartbreaking, A Second Chance finds Bier at her best: posing ethical questions while retaining sharp focus on the conflicted individuals facing these dilemmas.

Bikes vs Cars [link]

Traffic jams are the same the world over, but in Brazil’s São Paulo, a megacity of 20 million inhabitants, most of the seven million cars appear to be stationary. Bicycles seem like an excellent solution, but, as blogger and activist Aline Cavalcante comments, you need a strong will to ride in a city designed solely for the automobile. Over in Los Angeles, 70% of the space is dedicated to roads and parking, but once upon a time, bicycles were the primary mode of transport, and cycleways crisscrossed the city. In Sweden, where two wheels rule, 40% of all citizens commute to and from work (compared with less than 1% in L.A.) on a bike. The car-centric design of our cities is explored in this globetrotting documentary that sets out the facts, interviewing cycling activists and bloggers, and reflecting on the power of the auto industry, as it celebrates the joy and potential of peddling.

Far from the Madding Crowd [link]

Based on Thomas Hardy’s literary classic, Far from the Madding Crowd is the story of Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a fiercely independent and spirited young woman who inherits her uncle’s farm. Financially autonomous (a rarity in Victorian times), beautiful and headstrong, she attracts three very different and determined suitors. Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer captivated by her wilfulness; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. This timeless story of a woman trying to maintain her independence explores the nature of love, passion, relationships, choice and the human ability to overcome hardship through resilience.

Good Things Await [link]

This pastoral documentary follows a herd of rare cattle and their idealistic owners over a year. For centuries, Red Danish was the dominant breed in the region. Niels Stokholm wants to revive their fortunes, so he buys a farm in Denmark’s north and stocks it with these attractive russet cows. He and his partner Rita have clear ideas about how their biodynamic farm should be run: with plants and animals in harmony. While their produce gets the seal of approval from Copenhagen’s famous Noma restaurant, Niel and Rita’s holistic methods aren’t popular with the authorities and the farm is under threat. Award-winning director Phie Ambo documents the couple’s struggles, as she celebrates their philosophy and the vision splendid that is Thorshøjgaard farm.

My Skinny Sister [link]

The winner of the Crystal Bear at Berlinale, as well as an audience award at the Goteborg Film Festival, My Skinny Sister is an insightful drama with moments of genuine humour. At the heart of this family story are two sisters: chubby Stella and teenage Katja. Like many siblings, they have a love-hate relationship, with squabbles over belongings and personal space. Katja is an obsessive ice-skater, out on the rink day and night preparing for performances. Stella tries to emulate her big sis, but spends most of the time butt down on the ice. Beneath Katja’s bright success, however, is the onset of an eating disorder, something her troubled parents ignore and her little sister frets about. Filmmaker Sanna Lenken’s debut feature is blessed with standout performances from Rebecka Josephson (granddaughter of famous Bergman actor Erland Josephson, who stars in the 2015 SFF-screening The Face) as the golden-haired Stella, and Amy Deasismont (a pop singer and television presenter in her native Sweden), as her older sibling.

The Look of Silence [link]

The Look of Silence is a companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer’s Academy Award-nominated The Act of Killing (SFF 2013), but it is a very different journey. Whereas, the earlier film concentrated on the killers’ accounts of the era; the second focuses on the victims, their families and community. The central character, Adi, is a far more gentle soul than the protagonists in The Act of Killing. Adi’s older brother was killed during the Indonesian communist purge of the 1960s. An optician by trade, Adi visits the homes of the victims’ families, as well as the perpetrators and witnesses of the carnage, slipping on lenses as he probes for the long-concealed truth about his brother’s death and those savage times.

Bergman Retrospective


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.

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