Scandinavian films adapt to English

Language allows for new audiences, locales

After the release of Lars von Trier’s international success “Breaking the Waves” in 1996, the pairing of English-language pics and Scandinavian filmmakers has become more than just a marriage of convenience.

Icelandic producer Joni Sighvatsson insists that Scandi-U.K. partnerships have paved the way for future “auteur filmmaking on an international platform.”

“No matter how successful a Scandinavian film is, it’s only going to be seen by a maximum of maybe a million people,” says Sighvatsson, majority owner of Scandinavian distributor Scanbox Entertainment and founder of Palomar Pictures. “So in the end it creates a lot of opportunity.”

Since the mid-’90s, several Scandi filmmakers have followed von Trier’s lead in making English-language pics, namely Nicolas Winding Refn (“Valhalla Rising”), Timo Vuorensola (“Iron Sky”) and Antti Jokinen (“The Resident”).

Danish director Lone Scherfig made her English-language debut in 2002 with “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.”

Originally set in Denmark, Scherfig ultimately shot the film in Glasgow, Scotland. The film was partly financed by the Glasgow Film Office and Scottish Screen — connections von Trier had made while shooting “Waves.”

“It gave me a chance to shoot an English-language film and shoot in a city that I found much more inspiring than my own,” Scherfig says.

“Sometimes as a director it’s easier to see something when you’re not at home.”

This attraction led to Scherfig’s most recent English-language project, “An Education,” which bowed at this year’s Sundance to critical praise.

Scherfig admits there were several challenges in shooting the film in English.

“There’s an intuition I don’t have,” Scherfig says of the pic’s 1960s Blighty setting. “I had to trust other people’s taste and knowledge.”

Finnish helmer Jokinen says he found similar challenges in making the upcoming “The Resident” starring Hilary Swank.

“I’m the kind of director who envisions everything in my head first, and there’s no common language for that,” he says.

“I have jokingly always said that I wrote an American genre film, but I hid a Scandinavian film inside of it.”

Jokinen adds that much of “Resident” is inspired by his Scandinavian background. He describes the film as a “character-driven thriller” with themes aimed at an international audience.

For most filmmakers, in terms of story, “Language is almost secondary,” says Sighvatsson, who helped launch the careers of David Fincher and Spike Jonze while co-chief of Propaganda Films, which he co-founded in 1986.

“In the end, you can never compete with Hollywood at its own game,” adds Sighvatsson. “In order to compete in an international marketplace, you have to have a unique vision of some kind.”

To that end, Scherfig says she feels the producers of “Education” chose her because of her Dogma background. They wanted the film to avoid looking “slick,” as she describes it. Yet while some might recognize elements of the Dogma style, Scherfig says “Education” ultimately will connect with audiences as an English film because “so much of the humor lies in the dialogue.”

“If you can find … a script where everything falls into place, nationality becomes less important,” Scherfig says. “After all, we’re all making the same film.”

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