62nd Nordic Film Days

Festival Report by Guntars Laucis

The INTERFILM Jury Luebeck 2020: Ingrid Glatz Anderegg, Guntars Laucis, Morten Sternberg, Inga Meißner (clockwise)

This year’s festival edition was perhaps the first of its kind in history of Luebeck’s Nordic Film Days. After rapid changes in coronavirus pandemic developments in Europe it was decided that the festival moves completely online, which presented new challenges for festival juries and management, as it required a quick set up of film screening possibilities and meetings online. As unexpected as these changes were in the beginning they proved to be organized well and working. It is not comparable to watching films together with an audience and, most importantly in jury work, discussing them with fellow members face to face. However, due to effective work of all parties involved, it proved that in challenging times it is possible to conduct big scale events online and that meetings and discussions bring people and thoughts together through different media.

As every year the broad selection of Nordic films showcased the strength and growing ability of the Nordic film industry to engage with audiences on different subjects. This has been a growing trend for some decades now, but it seems that this year proved to be especially blessed with quality films from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Iceland, etc. The strength of the Nordic film industry relies on its ability to engage in subjects which are relevant in today’s world but are not easy to discuss or grasp due to their contentious issues whereas they present them in entertaining and suspenseful ways. You may experience different feelings during watching, you may or may not agree with the author’s thoughts, but you are never bored or left unengaged. And that is a sign that the Nordic film industry has been taking steps in the right direction through the last decades in order to be close and relevant to audiences in today’s ever-changing media landscape. This development makes one feel hopeful for the future of film and media industries from this region.

One of the remarkable films presented in Luebeck is ”A Perfectly Normal Family”, directed by Malou Reymannn (Denmark 2020), winner of the Church Film Prize. It works on many different levels – great acting, perfect casting, well told story and, above all, a hard subject to talk about without getting into finger pointing and personal convictions. And this perhaps is the greatest achievement of this film – it manages to blend all professional and story elements in order to serve the purpose of the underlying theme of the film: how do we love each other and stay available for our loved ones in a complex and often harsh reality. Which values are most important for us? This is the real subject matter which this film explores perfectly.

„Tigers“, directed by Ronnie Sandahl (Sweden, Denmark, Italy, 2020) received a Commendation by the INTERFILM Jury. After watching this film it does not let you go easily. And that is the mark of a great achievement. First and foremost it is told in a relevant film language which is accessible to younger audiences as well as broader audience segments, which in turn is fundamental for a film to be seen. Yes, it is a sports film and great at it. But what it really is about is hard choices for us and pressures involved with that. We all face them in different times in our life. The protagonist in this film faces them in his teenage years and on a great scale. What would you choose if your heart tells you one, but society and your own convictions something else. The story gives an answer to this dilemma. And it lifts it from being just a great sports film to a great human drama.

It's very rare when a film engages you emotionally so that you forget to pay attention to different professional aspects, but are fully immersed in it. "Hope" by Maria Sødahl (Norway, Sweden, 2019) succeeds in it, which is the sign of a nearly perfect work. Yes, there is great acting from the entire cast, especially in the lead roles, great directing, great cinematography, great storytelling. But one somehow seamlessly accepts it through the involvement in the world of this story and really lives for the duration of the film's running time and long after that within the world it creates. We feel like that it's near impossible to describe such complicated subjects as marriage, relationships, mortality and loneliness within a relatively short time of two hours in any other medium than film. And this is what the film achieves in a perfect way.

“The Pit“, directed by Dace Pūce (Latvia, Finland, 2020) won the main award of the festival, the NDR Filmpreis (Film Prize by the Public Broadcast in Northern Germany). This film from Latvia is about hope in a hopeless world. That spark of hope comes from the smallest and weakest who are the most hurt. The director captures the environment with a great degree of authenticity, setting it opposite to the creative and hopeful world of a young boy who must carry this flame through all the hardships this reality throws at him. The film displays perfect and authentic acting from a very young actor in the protagonist's role and in the supporting role of an elderly transgender man. This film will not let you go either, but somehow, notwithstanding all the horrors of the reality people inhabit in it, will leave you with hope.

Finally, “Helene”, directed by Antti J. Jokinen (Finland, Estonia, 2020) is a work which reminds us that film is foremost a visual medium. Through excellent directing and photography, this film tells us the story about an artist. And it does so with such great sensitivity and understanding of the subject matter that it brings us directly into the world of this artist and art in general. One might say that not much happens in this film story wise, just life, heartbreak and strength to carry on. But is this not what life is about? And when it is told through pictures and painting, the audience is invited to look for details and nuances. Which in this film are rich, layered, especially in the work of photography and the superb acting of the actress in the lead role.