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Berlin: Scandinavian Pics Learn to Laugh

Moving away from Nordic noir, a new brand of Scandinavian black comedy will be represented at the Berlinale with Mans Mansson and Axel Petersen’s “The Real Estate” playing in competition.

The Real Estate” follows the journey of Nojet, a 68-year-old woman who inherits an apartment building that turns out to be a money pit rather than a cash cow. Nojet takes control of the building and becomes more ruthless and cynical than the business surrounding it.

“The real estate market in Stockholm is extremely harsh, there’s a [shortage] of housing and it’s a massive issue for people. Axel and I felt a necessity to make a film about this,” says Mansson, who has attended the Berlinale before with “Mr. Governor,” “Avalon” and “The Yard” with his co-director Petersen.

Along the lines of Ruben Ostlund’s “The Square,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was shortlisted for a foreign-language Oscar, “The Real Estate” is part of a trend toward dark-edged comedies that use humor to address serious issues and highlight the contradictions within contemporary Sweden.

Mansson says Roy Andersson’s Cannes’ jury prize-winning “Songs From the Second Floor,” a surreal comedy dating back to 2000 about the pointlessness of modern life, paved the way for topical dark comedies such as  “The Square” and Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” to play at key festivals.

“I think ‘Songs From the Second Floor’ shaped many things —‘The Square’ stems from this tradition of comedy. I think that we’re going to see more and more complex and artistically beautiful comedies in the future which will compete at big festivals like Berlin,” Mansson says.

“Many people have this vision of Sweden as a  fantastic, evolved society, and it can be very rewarding to turn this dream world upside down. That’s what Nordic noir does so successfully, and comedies can do it as well. Comedies can be very dark and funny; often times the funniest moments are the darkest.

Mansson is producing the film with Petersen via their newly launched outfit Flybridge.

Reflecting on the Palme d’Or for “The Square,” Ostlund says the prize was particularly meaningful to him because it honored a film that dealt with serious topics through dark humor rather than conventional drama.

The Swedish helmer says he felt part of a new generation of European filmmakers, including Ade and Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), who strive to “say something important” and do so in an “entertaining and exciting” way.

Gabriela Pichler’s “Amateurs,” which opens Goteborg Film Festival, also mixes dark humor and social themes. Anna-Maria Kantarius, who is producing the film at Garagefilm Intl., says Pichler’s film had a “socially-minded heart” as well as a “humorous and warm tone. “

“It struck me that this might be one of the rare times I will see a film that actually reflects the Sweden and the world I live in and know. It’s complex, it’s absurd and seldom portrayed,” says Kantarius.

On top of making their way into top festivals, Nordic comedies have also been popular at the Scandinavian box office. “Solsidan,” Felix Herngren and Mans Herngren’s comedy feature based on the TV series hit with the same name, is on track to score more than 1.5 million admissions across Sweden, Norway and Finland, including 1.2 million admissions in Sweden alone as of late January.

“Solsidan” even surpassed “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at the box office and is on track to break the box-office record set by the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy of films. A comedy boasting a darker edge than the series, “Solsidan” follows three couples through divorces, love, childbirth and unusual parenting habits in Torekov, an idyllic town known as the Swedish Riviera.

“People have said that Nordic comedies [don’t travel] but we are experiencing these past few years a gradually stronger demand for Scandinavian comedy, and it goes for both comedy TV series and features,”  says Pontus Edgren, managing partner at FLX which produced “Solsidan” as well as Herngren’s “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared,” which premiered at the Berlinale. Edgren points out “Solsidan” was being remade in France and Finland.

Recent Nordic comedies that turned out to be hits include Hannes Holm’s “A Man Called Ove” which was nominated for a foreign-language Oscar, Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams,” which won a prize at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard, Anders Thomas Jensen’s “Men & Chicken” with Mads Mikkelsen, as well as “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared.”

Scandinavian Titles at Berlin; co-prods play a role in the festival and market.

Competition

The Heiresses

Paraguay/Germany/Uruguay/Norway/Brazil/France

Director: Marcelo Martinessi

With: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova

World premiere

The Real Estate

Sweden/U.K.

Director: Mans Mansson, Axel Petersen

With: Léonore Ekstrand, Christer Levin, Christian Saldert, Olof Rhodin, Carl Johan Merner, Don Bennechi

World premiere

Berlinale
Special Gala

Becoming Astrid 

Sweden/Germany/Denmark

Director: Pernille Fischer Christensen

With: Alba August, Trine Dyrholm, Magnus Krepper

World Premiere

Panorama

That Summer 

Sweden/Denmark/U.S.

Director: Goran Hugo Olsson

Documentary

European premiere

Generation

Danmark

Denmark

Director: Kasper Rune Larsen

The Incredible Story
of the Giant Pear

Denmark

Directors: Philip Einstein Lipski, Amalie Naesby Fick, Jorgen Lerdam

International premiere

Gordon and Paddy

Sweden

Director: Linda Hamback
International premiere

Drama Series Days

Heimebane

Norway

Director: Arild Andresen

Broadcaster: NRK

World premiere

Liberty

Denmark

Director: Mikael Marcimain

Broadcaster: DR

World premiere

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