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Scandi films unspool at Berlinale

Berlin Daily Spotlight 2013: Scandinavian Cinema

It is hard to pick a year when Scandinavian cinema was more prolific and celebrated than 2012. A major indicator of this prominence are the two Oscar nominations for foreign-language film, Denmark’s “A Royal Affair” and Norway’s “Kon-Tiki,” and one for documentary, Sweden’s “Searching for Sugar Man.”

For sure it’s not all about Academy Awards. But the noms do reflect a general rise in global awareness of Scandinavian film, as well as a competitive reinforcement within national film industries and — over the past decade — a more foresighted international outlook. This new prominence is reflected at festivals worldwide, and has paid off at the local box office. Both Denmark and Sweden had record results in 2012, with an increased national market share.

After Malik Bendjelloul’s “Sugar Man” conquered Sundance last year, period-piece “A Royal Affair” was overwhelmingly received at the Berlinale 2012, winning the Silver Bear. Following a local group of well-known figures — Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Lone Scherfig, Susanne Bier (also a jury member at this year’s Berlinale), Niels Arden Oplev and Nicolas Winding Refn — Nikolaj Arcel presented himself as the next Danish helmer with significant international prospective.

Sweden’s Alicia Vikander advanced her acting career from the breakthrough in Lisa Langseth’s “Beloved,” then swiftly moving on to a Hollywood career. Meanwhile, her young Danish colleague Mikkel Boe Folsgaard won the Berlinale’s prize for lead actor for his turn in “A Royal Affair.” A half-year later, the thesp graduated from theater school in Copenhagen.

This year Folsgaard is one of 10 European Shooting Stars showcased at the festival. Another is Sweden’s Nermina Lukac, a celebrated thesp in Gabriela Pichler’s Venice-awarded “Eat Sleep Die.” At the Swedish Film Gala last month, this autodidact nabbed the actress statue from veteran Pernilla August for her perf in “Call Girl,” Mikael Marcimain’s Toronto-prized debut from last year. Finnish actress Laura Birn makes up a third Shooting Star from the Nordic countries.

Even though the main competition of this year’s Berlinale features no Scandinavian productions, there are two Nordic helmers to look for. Bille August, twice awarded a Palme D’Or in Cannes, visits Berlin with his Euro pudding “Night Train to Lisbon,” a German-Swiss-Portuguese production screened out of competition. Based on a Pascal Mercier bestseller, August’s romantic thriller stars Jeremy Irons, Melanie Laurent and Jack Huston.

“The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” is one of six American films selected for the main competition. Pic is helmed by Swedish debutant Fredrik Bond, best known as a director of commercials. Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood star alongside Danish thesp Mads Mikkelsen, who keeps adding to his status as one of the top film actors in Scandinavia, thanks to noteworthy leads in “A Royal Affair” and Thomas Vinterberg’s Cannes-released “The Hunt,” for which Mikkelsen gained the trophy for lead actor.

Two Danish films have been invited to this year’s Forum section. “The Weight of Elephants,” by first-timer Daniel Joseph Borgman, tells the lyrical story of a 9-year-old boy who befriends a mysterious girl. Working in Denmark over the past few years, Borgman was actually born and raised in New Zealand, which also co-produces the pic. Based on a novel by Australian Sonya Hartnett, who won the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2008, the film will have a cross-section screening in Generation.

Also selected for Forum is Jacob Secher Schulsinger and Nicolas Pereda’s “Killing Strangers,” a meta-revolutionary post-Western, which deconstructs the modern nation state in the wake of the Mexican revolution of 1910. Pic is another project produced within the ambitious DOX:LAB, launched by the Copenhagen festival CPH:DOX in 2009 as a cross-cultural program teaming up filmmakers in and outside the European Union.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s widely acclaimed documentary “The Act of Killing,” about the Indonesian genocide, will play in the Panorama section. The Danish pic launched in Telluride and Toronto last year. Panorama also includes two Swedish docs: Mia Engberg’s highly personal “Belleville Baby” and opening pic “TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard” (see report, this page).

Another Swedish film, “Eskil & Trinidad” by Stephan Apelgren, is selected for Generation Kplus. After completing a series of crime pics based on Henning Mankell’s Wallander, scribe-helmer Apelgren now addresses a younger audience, maintaining a central Swedish Berlinale tradition (even though the festival programmers said no to “Let the Right One In” in 2008, Tomas Alfredson’s vampire hit instead started playing at Rotterdam). Last year Generation accepted Martin Hogdahl’s “The Ice Dragon,” which launched the start of a successful tour worldwide. This year pic will play theatrically in at least nine countries.

“It is obvious that Swedish youth cinema is globally appreciated when Berlinale Generation, one of the world’s primary film platforms for a younger audience, selects such a great variety of Swedish films,” says Pia Lundberg, head of the international department at the Swedish Film Institute.

Apart from “Eskil & Trinidad,” Lundberg is referring to no fewer than nine Swedish short films selected for Berlinale 2013, thus continuing another tradition. Ruben Ostlund, who has seen his two latest features unspool in Cannes, won the Golden Bear for short in 2010 for his “Incident by a Bank,” whereas Jonas Odell’s “Never Like the First Time!” nabbed the same award in 2006.

This year, four Swedish titles compete for the top prize. Animated “Whaled Women” by Ewa Einhorn and Jeuno JE Kim is about two aggravated women who make a discovery on an Arctic beach. Victor Lindgren’s “Ta av mig” (“Undress Me”) is a date movie on gender and sexual objectification. Art student Leontine Arvidsson unspools two experimental works, “2011 12 30” and “Utan titel” (“Untitled”), both pics profiling a woman after breast cancer surgery.

Generation 14plus screens an additional four Swedish titles, including Sanna Lenken’s “Eating Lunch,” a case study on anorexia; and Gustav Danielsson’s “Animals I Killed Last Summer,” which he made after winning a scholarship at Stockholm Film Festival. Also screening are Anders Hazelius’ “The First Time” and Minka Jakerson’s “The Yearning Room,” in 14plus; and screening in Generation is “The Meatballs and Sorry Bullies,” a wonderful morality tale by renowned animator Johan Hagelback.

Finally, a most alluring Swedish veteran will be seen at this year’s Berlinale: Anita Ekberg will join the Talent Campus to give a master class.

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