Stretching Out and Reaching Within

Festival Report Luebeck 2014

Life in a Fishbowl

Is there such as thing as Nordic cinema, or is Nordic cinema simply an umbrella term that brings together all films that are made in the Nordic countries, whether they have something more in common or not? And is there a difference between Nordic cinema and European cinema more generally? I have contemplated these questions before and taking part in this year’s Nordic Film Days in beautiful Lübeck, I cannot help but ponder them again.

During the last three years I have worked on a project researching contemporary Nordic films with the focus on representations of religion. Some recurring features in how religion is represented in Nordic films have been identified and the popularity of certain genres can be perceived, but what have also struck me during the project, is the varieties of stories being told and the national characteristics of certain films. However, the films in competition at this year’s Nordic Film Days illustrate that there are stories that keep appearing and aspects of Nordic films that make them stand out.

A feature of Nordic film that has often been highlighted is the popularity and often high quality of coming-of-age-stories. Filmmakers that take on this theme build on a strong Nordic traditions, a tradition that is also helped by the film financing systems in several of the Nordic countries, a system that have long been supportive of youth and children’s films. At the Nordic Film Days children’s films compete in a separate category, but several of the films in the main competition too focus on children, teenagers, and growing up. The INTERFILM-Jury was particularly fascinated by two road-movies with young women as the main protagonists: the Estonian film I won’t come back by Ilmar Raag (Estonia, Russia, Finland, 2014) and the Lithuanian film The Excursionist by Audrius Juzenas (Lithunia, 2013). Though both films suffered from some narrative inconsistencies, the young protagonist’s stories were thought provoking.       

The Nordic countries are often referred to as forerunners in questions of gender equality. The film industries in the countries have however often been criticized for being male dominated. This is also apparent at this year’s Nordic film days where a large majority of the directors were men. Still, several of the competing films focus on women and the struggles of women both young and old. The winner of the NDR-film prize, the Icelandic film Life in a Fishbowl by Baldvin Z. (Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, 2014), the winner of the Baltic film prize, the Swedish film Underdog by Ronnie Sandahl (Sweden, 2014) and the winner of the audience prize, the Swedish film HelloHello by Maria Blom (Sweden, 2013), all have women as main protagonists. The films do not only focus on issues that can be argued to be specifically women’s issues and in this way challenge many possible preconceived notions of women in films. The INTERFILM-Jury was particularly moved by Life in a Fishbowl and HelloHello, but it was another film with a female protagonist that won the jury over.     

1001 Gram

For a jury focused on finding a film dealing with existential questions on a many facetted level, finding good candidates among Nordic films is seldom an issue. Many Nordic directors of late have been open to dealing with religion and religious themes, and on a broader scale, many-facetted explorations of human existence is often what seems to inspire Nordic directors. The INTERFILM-jury was this year particularly moved by Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, 2014). It was, however, a more traditional narrative that finally stood out as a suitable winner, Bent Hamer’s 1001 Grams (Norway, Germany, France, 2014). Hamer is a director known for being able to capture the madness of humanity with a smile and at the same time to probe our deepest longings, particularly our wish for control and connection. This is also very obviously the theme in 1001 Grams. The main protagonist in the film, Marie, works for Norway’s weight and measure institute and her life is a life of set standards and routines. Things are however about to come apart and a different balance is needed. Using a simple but striking visual language, humor, and dramatic features that feel very natural and real, Hamer takes the audience on a challenging, but hope inspiring journey that allows for both smiles and insights into the human condition.  

Being allowed to contemplate films together with others who share one’s love for the medium is always a great experience. For me being given the opportunity to watch and discuss films that are as close to my heart as Nordic films is something I truly cherish. For those who are not yet acquainted with Nordic films I can only recommend given them a chance. Though I would still argue that the differences between films from different Nordic countries are often more prevalent than the similarities, the films none the less offer fascinating glimpses of life in northern Europe that I believe no other medium can capture in the same vivid way.