As Norwegian-Swedish actress Maria Bonnevie introduces her character in Danish director Ole Bornedal’s film from Norwegian author Herbjorg Wassmo’s modern classic, “Dina’s Book,” she doesn’t say, “Jeg er Dina. Her er min historie.”
Her line is, “I am Dina. This is my story.” The $16 million Northern Lights-Nordisk Film production — the most expensive so far in Scandinavia, which was sold in Cannes by TF1 International — is one of numerous upcoming English-language features to come from the Nordic countries, especially Denmark.
“If they had shot ‘Dr. Zhivago’ in Russian, probably 200,000 people abroad would have seen it. If you want to make expensive films for the international market, they have to be in English,” explains Bornedal, who cast Gerard Depardieu and Christopher Eccleston with Scandinavian actors Pernilla August and Bjorn Floberg.
Bornedal has already directed a Hollywood movie in Hollywood — Miramax’s remake of his own “Nightwatch,” with Nick Nolte and Ewan McGregor. Since the 1920s, in the days of Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjostrom, working in the American Dream Factory has been an ambition for many Nordic directors. A few have had a one-off shot at a U.S. career. Fewer — such as Lasse Hallstrom and Renny Harlin — have succeeded.
Currently Danish Oscar-winning director Bille August (“Pelle the Conqueror”), after several English-language features for Germany’s Constantin Film, is on his first Hollywood assignment, “Without Apparent Motive.”
But shooting on their home turf, Scandinavian directors are increasingly forgoing their native tongue in favor of English, most significantly in Denmark (Thomas Vinterberg’s “It’s All About Love,” Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s “Skagerak,” and “Italian for Beginners” director Lone Scherfig’s “Wilbur Is Going to Kill Himself.”)
Vinterberg, Kragh-Jacobsen and Lars von Trier were among the original signatories of the legendary Dogme 1995 manifesto, stating new rules of chastity for filmmaking. Lately, however, von Trier primarily has shot major English-language features, most recently the $10 million “Dogville,” starring Nicole Kidman.
“The explanation is quite simple,” says Zentropa Entertainment CEO Peter Aalbæk Jensen. “It is impossible to package a film with a budget exceeding $3 million if you insist to shoot it with a Danish dialogue. It takes international funding, and foreign financiers are not placing their money in a Danish-language film.
“Of course we are at the same time gambling for a break at the American market — it is still our main target — but in spite of many efforts, we have not yet been successful. ‘Italian for Beginners,’ now exceeding 650,000 admissions in Germany, is probably our most profitable investment in terms of international returns.
“It has paid much better than most of von Trier’s films, which are made in English. Admittedly ‘Dancer in the Dark,’ the 2000 Cannes winner, made a great box office performance in Japan, but I do not think it would have made any difference to the local audiences, if they had spoken Danish in the film.
“Scherfig’s ‘Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself’ was originally intended as a mid-range Danish feature, but she wanted to try her skills on a larger scale. So we added Scottish finance to the budget, to total $3.5 million, in order to make it with a partly U.K. cast.”
A Zentropa co-production, Nimbus Film’s “Skagerak” is shooting on locations in Scotland. Kragh-Jacobsen’s $4 million feature stars Iben Hjejle as a young Danish au pair, who accepts an offer from a Scottish earl to become a surrogate mother, and then regrets.
“Kragh-Jacobsen had been working on the script for a long time, and after we collaborated on ‘Mifune,’ he trusted us with the project,” Nimbus Film producer Bo Ehrhardt says. “From the very beginning the story has taken place in Scotland, so English was the film’s natural language, also to attract foreign finance.
“Both Vinterberg and Kragh-Jacobsen have been offered movies in the U.S., on bigger budgets, and for better fees. However, we can give them something they will never get over there — script, cast and final cut approval — so they prefer control over their films to money and instant fame.”
Swedish wunderkind Lukas Moodysson, whose second feature, “Together,” is one of the most successful Scandinavian features in the international market, will act as executive producer on the upcoming English-language remake of the film, staged by U.K.’s FilmFour and U.S. production house, Number 9 Productions.
“It will obviously be interesting to see what they will be doing with my film, but I am not particularly committed to the project. An original is an original, a copy is a copy, and I have never been tempted to direct it,” says Moodysson, in post-production with “Lilja 4ever,” set to premiere in August.
“In general I think all these American remakes of non-American films are a sort of cultural imperialism. In this case, however, I think it is acceptable. My film is set in a 1970s Swedish commune, with vegetarian food, free sex and more Marx than Coca Cola. It will be funny to see what an American 1970s commune looked like.
“But my ambitions do not include a Hollywood career. My new film is mainly in Russian, because it takes place in the former Soviet Union,” he adds.
Moodysson’s feature debut, “Fucking Amal” (aka “Show Me Love” ), is being readied for a Dutch remake by Amsterdam’s iDTV, as “Fucking Ommen.”