By Don Simpson | March 4, 2010
Nordic (a.k.a. Scandinavian) Cinema – films made in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – is known for its stark and foreboding landscapes, slow pacing, and strange humor that seems to toggle between absurdism, surrealism and just plain silly. Those are, admittedly, some over-arching stereotypes; but, personally, I most enjoy Nordic films that match those stereotypes to a tee. In fact, many of my favorite directors are from Nordic nations (Ingmar Bergman, Aki Kaurismäki, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Lasse Hallström, Lars von Trier, Lukas Moodysson, Susanne Bier, Risto Jarva, Erik Skjoldbjærg, Tomas Alfredson, Bent Hamer, Baltasar Kormákur, Dagur Kári, and Olaf de Fleur). I’m not sure what that says about me as a person? To the best of my knowledge, I am not of Nordic ancestry – so I cannot explain where I gained this strange affinity for Nordic cinema. In which case, I’ll just lay all of the blame on the incorrigible genius of Ingmar Bergman whom I first discovered in film school…
I could go on and on about Nordic Cinema, but I’ll spare you the lecture and instead I will just get right down to the business at hand…
February 27th was a Saturday. It came and went just like any other Saturday. But unbeknownst to most of Austin, something special happened on February 27th – the Austin Nordic Film Festival at the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum. Somehow the prior years of the Austin Nordic Film Festival slid beneath my radar; but thanks to the powers of Facebook, the 2010 incarnation of this festival caught my attention. The fact that Danish film Flame & Citron (directed by Ole Christian Madsen) was playing was just a bonus – it was apparently released theatrically in Austin in November 2009 but it was gone before I ever realized it was here.
Running for essentially seven straight hours in one theater (ample endurance-building for the upcoming SXSW Film Festival), The Austin Nordic Film Festival featured a total of eight short films and two features, plus a free after-party at Shultz’s Beer Garden for all attendees. The films were separated into three blocks, with the assumption that some people may skip the second block of films (comprised of three short films) in favor of dinner (and the Austin Nordic Film Festival deserves kudos for being considerate enough to provide the attendees with a list of several local eateries within walking distance of the Texas History Museum).
With the utmost regret, I must report that I was only able to attend the first block of films (I was very distraught to have to miss the second feature film – Everlasting Moments). So, unfortunately, I can only report on the first block of films (I have no doubts that the rest of the festival was wonderful):
The Lake (Järvi) – This Finnish short features two women in a rowboat out on a lake. They are searching for something – and that something turns out to be a “lost” boyfriend. He had “fallen overboard” earlier that day. As it turns out, there are plenty of exes bobbing around in the lake – sort of a literal play on the saying “there are many fish in the sea.”
The Last Farm (Síðasti bærinn) – This Icelandic short tells the story of an aging farmer as he completes his final chores before boarding up his house for the winter and reluctantly prepares to relocate to a retirement home in the city with his wife. The Last Farm, with its bleak subject matter (Hrafn wife lies dead in their bed – one of the chores he must contend with), is the antithesis of overtly goofy The Lake. Watching them back-to-back was somewhat jarring, but also quite effective in showing the scope of emotions present in Nordic films.
The Magician – This Icelandic short is about a young boy who thinks he has magical powers which enable him to escape from his abusive and perpetually drunken father. The Magician teeters between the dreamy poeticism of the boy’s fantasies and the bleak and depressing realities of his situation at home. The lead character reminds me a lot of Kåre Hedebrant (Let the Right One In), but IMDB.com is providing me with no assistance in finding out the actors’ names for The Magician (I am 99% certain it was not Hedebrant).
My review of the feature-length Flame and Citron (Flammen & Citronen) can be found here.