Critic’s Notebook: Goteborg

Variety reviewer Alissa Simon takes in some of the highlights at this year's Goteborg Festival

To sample a smorgasbord of new Scandinavian cinema, there is no better place than the annual Goteborg Film Festival. In addition to hosting well-endowed competitions for best Nordic film and best Nordic docu, enduring fest sidebars such as Nordic Light, Swedish Features, and Swedish Premieres show the breadth and depth of the region’s production picture. Among these, one may discover a range of new films destined for further fest travel, if not offshore distribution and broadcast.

From the competition section, Norwegian helmer Hisham Zaman (“Before Snowfall”) scored best Nordic film for the second year in a row with his sophomore effort “Letter To The King.” Poignantly dealing with human rights and human dignity, the pic crosscuts the stories of a diverse group of Middle Eastern refugees and asylum seekers, each with their individual hopes and agendas, as they spend a day in Oslo. It is smaller in scale than his debut, but more compassionate and mature, with an impact that lingers.

Benedict Erlingsson’s strikingly visual “Of Horses And Men” picked up additional fans as well as two more kudos to add to its already long string of fest honors. This very dry, very Icelandic, episodic rural comedy capitalizes on the island’s unique landscape and Icelanders’ singular bond with their horses.

The international LGBT circuit will certainly see more of “Something Must Break” from Swede Ester Martin Bergsmark (“She Male Snails”), which world preemed as the fest’s opening night. Part poetic reverie, part psychodrama and part self-indulgence, the pic continues the helmer’s exploration of transgender lives and longings. Although unrewarded in Goteborg, it captured one of the Rotterdam fest’s prestigious Tiger Awards.

Also competing, “The Sunfish” from Danish debutant Soren Balle marked another world preem. This small, naturalistic, humanist drama takes place on the coast of northern Jutland and follows an aging fisherman who must contend with changes to his traditional way of life. It’s a universal story that one could imagine being remade in a variety of countries and contexts.

The brave, confrontational drama “I Am Yours” from Norwegian helmer-writer Iram Haq draws on her own heritage as a child of Pakistani immigrants. It follows an actress who refuses the traditional role of obedient daughter as she struggles to be a good mother to her young son and live life on her own terms.

Curiously, the Nordic docu competition mostly featured titles with an international perspective, including two that were well-received at the Sundance fest earlier in January: Goran Hugo Olsson’s archival assemblage “Concerning Violence” and Berit Madsen’s “Sepideh,” about an astronomy-loving Iranian teen obsessed with becoming an astronaut. But perhaps the most definitively Nordic docu was to be found in the Swedish premieres section in the guise of “Trespassing Bergman” from Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas.

A cinephile’s delight, “Trespassing Bergman” is about exploring legendary Swedish helmer Ingmar Bergman’s home, life, films and legacy. It mixes previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage from the making of his films and well-chosen film extracts with interviews shot at his remote Faro Island home and around the world. Filmmakers such as Michael Haneke, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, John Landis, Lars von Trier, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Claire Denis, Takeshi Kitano, Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou talk about the impact that films such as “Summer with Monika,” “The Seventh Seal,” “Persona” and “Fanny and Alexander” have had on their lives and careers.

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