Nordic Film Festival 2007

Köld Slóð (Cold Trail)

Luckily, my headache from the day before had disappeared and was not the flu, so I drove 4 hours to Lübeck to the Nordic Film Festival and came just in time to see this Icelandic thriller. There are very few actual murders in Iceland, so the current crop of writers and filmmakers are making ones up to suit them.

The film starts in Reykjavik with your typical reporter, getting up out of the bed of some woman, and then heading off to his horrible job of wrecking people's lives by writing garbage about them for one of the daily rags. He has a pretty young colleague who needles him a lot.

There's been a death at a hydroelectric power station, but it's an accident. Just the same, it makes the front page, and his mother sees it, breaking down and telling him that this guy was his father. So off he goes to the station, having somehow obtained the job replacing his father. The station is located somewhere remote, cold and snowy where you can only get around with a snow scooter.

There are lots of sinister people there, some illegal stuff, some attempts on his life, and he - of course - falls in love with the only woman approximately his age there. The filmography is great - many scenes that cause you to hold your breath because you think something bad is about to happen. Then the director, Björn Br. Björnsson, takes a mad twist with us and we head off, careening in another direction.

Gorgeous scenery, quite thrilling, ghosts, and the first Icelandic film in ages that has not had the obligatory pissing-in-the-snow scene. Looks like Icelandic film-making is growing up.

Tatt av kvinnen (Gone With the Woman)

The director of the "Elling" films, Petter Næss, has produced another amusing film about a guy who just does not quite fit into the real world - but he attracts beautiful and interesting women just the same. He ends up following Marianne around, falling in love with another woman in Paris, but not daring to really do something about it until Marianne has figuratively walked all over him in her Army boots.

I've seen worse films, and there are amusing scenes. The painting (which was painted for the film) of a thin person trying to catch a large ball with a small net gives a motto that is very serious. But on the whole, Elling was better.

Den man älskar (To Love Someone)

Åke Sandgren has made a very gripping film on the topic of violence against women. He portrays the problem without being able to offer any answers to questions such as why men hit women, why women let themselves be hit, and why they return to men who have beaten them to within an inch of their lives. Intertwined is the story of a man approaching 50 who thought he loved the woman he rescued from an abusive relationship, only to find himself beginning to be violent, but in a different way.

Direktøren for det hele (Boss of it all)

I don't like Lars von Trier, the director of this film and enfant terrible of Danish film-making. But Fridrik Thor Fridriksson was playing a nasty Icelandic company president, and I had heard that there was Icelandic mixed into the film, so I got in line for this one. The tickets for the accredited guests were gone just a few people in front of me, although I thought I was there on time. I decided to wait - usually a few people get in. The couple in front of me decided to see something else, so it was clear to me: I will squeeze in if there is one seat left. I got in, and it was worth it!

This time, von Trier has done away with the camera people. He sets up multiple, stationary cameras, and lets a computer randomly choose the scenes. Of course, he does a lot of work in the editing, but mostly the scenes are focused and properly lit, they just don't pan.

Oh right, the story. Well, this guy, Ravn (the name means "fox" in Danish), who likes to be liked, but is actually a shark with contracts, owns a company. Except he plays just another worker, and blames all of the nasty decisions on the "Boss of it All". He wants to sell to an Icelander, but he insists on meeting this "Boss of it All", so Ravn hires an actor to play the role.

It's a comedy, so there are lots of funny complications and twists and turns. The actor, Kristoffer, does a great job playing at being an actor playing a director. He is at times so stupid, at times so wise, it is fun to watch him. Fridrik Thor should stick to directing films, he can't act his way out of a paper bag. He just sat there, trying to look angry, and cussed up a storm. His translator to Danish did a fantastic job, reacting to Kristoffer's craziness with raised eyebrows or opened eyes, as necessary. He softened up the cussing on the way to Danish, and the English subtitles restricted themselves to just "sh*t" and "f*ck", which is a shame, as Icelandic is so rich in swear words.

This is definitely a must-see film, but it probably won't make it to Germany, as dubbing it in German would ruin it.

Den nya Människan (The new "man", mistranslation for "human")

Sweden is considered to be a nice, good, egalitarian welfare state. it was neutral during the Second World War, meaning that it did not openly choose sides. But as the writer of the film, Kjell Sundstedt, noted after the film, the Nazis came to Sweden to see how they were solving their poverty problem by sterilizing young girls from underprivileged homes. The sterilization program continued into the 50s, the government has now been forced to offer the over 50.000 women thus sterilized compensation which many never picked up because what had happened to them was so horrible, they did not want to open up the old wounds. Sundstedt, who is blind, is currently writing a book about the sterilization program. A number of his own aunts were castrated in this way.

This is the story of Gertrud (the actress, Julia Högberg, is somehow not credited in IMDB). Her father, a poor widower with 7 kids, agrees to let the state take his oldest girl to a home where she will be cared for and have regular meals. She does not want to go, but is taken. It is a horrible institution, demanding obedience of the girls and making them work from morning to night. She tries to escape, but is caught and returned.

Pregnant by the groundskeeper (who denies being the father), she devises a way to escape - and exact a little revenge on the horrible Dr. Berg, who is running the institution. The director, Klaus Härö, notes that he looked for an actor that looks like himself, as he wanted to understand how Dr. Berg could be convinced that this was a good thing he was doing. The actor, Tobias Aspelin, portrays a "Herrenmensch" who would be at home in any Nazi movie.

The film was not well received in Sweden - what a surprise, as it puts scratches on the shiny clean image that Sweden likes to project of itself. Sundstedt noted that in Södertalje they are talking about sterilizing young immigrant women, who seem to have lots of children that drain the Swedish welfare system. All the more reason to try and get this dark chapter of Swedish history out into the open and into the limelight of discussion.

Miehen työ (A Man's Work)

Since I had already seen the films I thought were interesting, it was a toss-up what to see Saturday evening. I was actually on my way to see the Danish film "Homesick" when I saw that there were tickets still available to a Finnish film. Okay, Finnish films are not high on my list of favorite films, but this one had looked mildly interesting.

So in I went, I had another nice wide seat in the back, and we settled in. Finnish people in films don't use facial expressiveness much, they are very stony-faced, and don't say much. I know a Finnish woman who lives in Sweden, she is bright and cheerful and bubbly and her face is full of expression. Maybe that's why she left.

Anyway. Juha lost his job in the factory and can't bring himself to tell his wife. So he still gets up at 5am and pretends to go to work. Actually, he just kills time all day. He drinks a lot of coffee with his taxi-driver pal, Olli. We learn that Olli is also the birthfather of Juha's son. But they are good pals. Juha finally puts up signs that he will do handyman's work.

His first job is in the home of a woman who wants him for completely different services. He performs as asked, and gets paid a lot - tax-free. He debates with Olli, and then turns into a professional call-boy. But since he is still trying to keep this secret from his wife, he has to make up lots of stories.

Many of his customers just want to talk, they want to be seen by a man, have a man take time for them, to massage them. Even though he hears from these women what they want, he is unable to do this with his wife, who just irritates him. The director and writer, Aleksi Salmenperä, brings it to a rather improbable close.

Some folks walked out during the film, I waited until the credits started. It was better than watching TV, and the story was a good idea, but somehow the spark did not ignite.

Pornostjerne? (Porn Star?)

This is a documentary about the young Norwegian porn king I will not name here to keep him from added advertising. The director, John Sullivan, followed him around for quite a long time, documenting his tactics of filming drunken high school graduates and selling the films, as well as organizing wet-T-Shirt contests and other stuff.

Oh, the girls all do it because they want to be stars, we here. But we also hear his girlfriend, who now sees that this is not the way to fame. This is just the way for the guy to have lots of girls around and to have lots of sex while he makes money off them while cheating everyone else around him.

The documentary is very disturbing - why do young people fall for this sleaze? Why do they do all these things drunken in front of the camera? In the discussion - which was very intensive and very long - we explored this being the rebellion of young people against their liberal parents. Porn as a "normal" drug like alcohol and cigarettes.

I found it very sad that the young women felt they needed to act like this, that the guys goaded them on, and that there does not seem to be a way to stop this guy. He's a poster child for the anti-alcohol lobby in Norway for sure. A scary documentation that needs to be shown to all Norwegian students in the last year of school so they understand what this guy is up to when he show up at their school-leaving parties.

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