“Focus: Nordic Comedy is a tribute to the contemporary Nordic comedy and an attempt to try to understand humor’s social and political role in today’s culture,” says Göteborg fest artistic director Jonas Holmberg. He admits that it was partially conceived as an antidote to the fest’s other focus on the Apocalypse. He says, “The Apocalypse was the first one we came up with. It really engaged us, but we were worried that it might seem too dark or too hopeless.”
He added: Then we realized that the last four out of five winners of the European Film Awards for best comedy came from the Nordic countries; that they were films whose success was not just in their home territories.”
It’s true. Nordic comedies are becoming as popular world-wide as Nordic noir. The Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” adapted from the popular book by Fridrik Backman and directed by Hannes Holm, was the top-grossing foreign language film released in the U.S. in 2017. Iceland’s “Rams” (2015), directed by Grimur Hákonarson, won hearts internationally and 2019 will see an Australian remake. Another Icelandic title, “Woman At War” (2018), directed by Benedikt Erlingsson, recently had the remake rights snatched up by Jodie Foster, who will direct and star.
The focus encompasses eight features, numerous shorts, including “The Pine & The Elk” by Swedish comic and podcaster K. Svensson, who insists on the new genre designation “true com,” samplings from episodic series and a documentary about female comedians. A seminar about humor’s political force will deepen audience engagement with the themes.
Given the success of “A Man Called Ove,” it’s no surprise that the latest Fridrik Backman adaptation, “Britt-Marie Was Here,” directed by Tuva Novotny, is a key film for the section. Holmberg says, “Another link between the two is that “Britt-Marie “is also about an old person with rigid habits and a strict view of life. It was important for the focus, so we have a preview just before the festival opens, since it opens theatrically right after.”
Set-in-their-ways elders also create much humor in Finland as witnessed by “Happier Times, Grump,” helmed by Tiina Lymi. It’s the second feature centered on the eponymous, over-the-top character previously featured in popular books by Tuomas Kyro, as well as a radio drama series.
Meanwhile, appealing to the opposite end of the age scale is “Heavy Trip,” co-directed by Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren, about an aspiring heavy metal band on a road trip from their small town to a festival in Norway. “Trip” nabbed U.S. distribution from Doppelgänger Releasing, the genre label of Music Box Films. There’s also “Iron Sky The Coming Race” from Timo Vuorensola, a follow up to his earlier cult classic, choc a bloc with dinosaurs, Nazis and iPhone fundamentalists.
Holmberg characterizes Nordic humor as “a little bit black, dark” and one can see that in several edgy comedies representing Denmark, including the #MeToo satire “Ditte & Louise,” featuring TV comics Ditte Hansen and Louise Mieritz, and the non-PC “The Saint Bernard Syndicate,” directed by Mads Brügger. Meanwhile, the stylish dramedy “Out Of Tune,” by Frederikke Aspöck, centers on a charismatic celebrity entrepreneur who is convicted for financial crimes and challenges the leader of the prison choir.