Perhaps a small film industry, but rich as hell (oil etc.). And where there is money, there is usually leeway for making innovative and creative films. Norway produces over 30 features a year, and the recent best Norwegian films are essential must-watch films by any standard. Norway does suffer slightly from being mainly associated with Norwegian horror films and zombie films like Death Snow (2009) and Troll Hunter (2010), and with bigger budget drama films like Max Manus (2008), Headhunters (2011) and King of Devil’s Island (2011). But it are their independent films, art house films if you like, that stand out among European cinema. Reprise (2006) for example, represents the best of what Scandinavian cinema has to offer – stylish, clever, insightful and moving (not too mention a great soundtrack). Together with films like Kitchen Stories (2003) (displaying Norwegian dry humor), Norway has been a huge contribution to the Scandinavian cinema of the 00’s. In this article I preview the new Norwegian films of 2014 and look back on the best of Norwegian cinema in 2013 and the last few years.
Preview: New Norwegian cinema in 2014 – its golden year?
Here I have listed the most highly anticipated upcoming Norwegian films up for release this year. They are currently going around the film festival circuit. It seems that in 2014 the biggest Norwegian directors are giving English-language cinema a go. It was to be expected that the commercially successful Norwegian directors duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg would be snatched up by Hollywood sooner or later. Already making slick traditional Hollywood-studio style films like Max Manus (2008) and Kon-Tiki (2012), it comes as no surprise that they are in charge of the 2014 Netflix series about the famous traveller Marco Polo, and are contracted to direct the fifth installment of The Pirates of the Caribbean (2016) franchise with Johnny Depp. But also my favorite Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier (Reprise, Oslo 31 August), a director who knows how to make commercially viable art house cinema, was coming with an English language feature, his biggest production so far, but shit happened.
Directed by Eskil Vogt
Eskil Vogt, the writer of the above mentioned Norwegian masterpieces by Trier, is making his feature film debut with ‘Blind’ about a young female writer who turned blind and no longer leaves her home, only to find out her real fears lie within. It was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival 2014, and the reviews so far have been promising. Variety‘s Scott Foundas notes the resemblance to Reprise in that the film again is very much dealing with the process of writing, and as this was done so cleverly and fresh in Reprise, I cannot wait to go see it. For me this is the must-see Norwegian film of 2014.
The Sleepwalker (2014)
Directed by Mona Fastvold
Film a bunch of people hanging out at some kind of secluded fancy family estate, add a bit of drama and dialogue, and I am already game. A simple concept that inexplicably pulls me in. In this film estranged sisters and brothers spend a weekend out in the country side, but the situation becomes quickly uncomfortable as there are more than a few skeletons in the family’s closet. It seems to be a psychological drama that slowly turns into a subtle thriller. It is the feature debut of Norwegian director Mona Fastvold, who goes straight into English-language cinema.
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Kraftidioten or In order of Disappearance is bound to be 2014’s Norwegian blockbuster. It is destined to do well at the Box Office because it combines two things the Norwegians are famous for – gritty crime thrillers & dark comedy. And perhaps more importantly, it is a very slick production which obliterates any production standard superiority Hollywood claimed to have. Kraftidioten features Stellan Skarsgard who plays the father of a murdered son, is out for revenge on dangerous gangsters.
A Thousand Times Good Night (2013-2014)
Directed by Erik Poppe
This films feels a little bit too NGO or World Press Photo inspired to me, but I have to include it on the list. It is another English-spoken Norwegian production. This time with another big name in French cinema, Juliete Binoche. It is about one of the world’s top war photographers who is under fire from an unexpected source – her husband no longer puts up with her dangerous lifestyle. The film was already released at a few festivals in 2013, but it will gets its international release in 2014 (at least in Netherlands, in July). Some reviews welcome it as an emotionally gripping drama. I am not too sure, but I do think director Erik Poppe (Hawaii, Oslo, 2004) should be taken seriously.
1001 Grams (2014)
Directed by Bent Hamer
Bent Hamer is returning to the big screen this summer with 1001 grams. He has made a name for himself with the American adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s Factotum in 2005, but is in Sweden and Norway best known for the moving dry comedy Kitchen Stories (2003). His upcoming feature film 1001 grams is said to be about a troubled work-minded female scientists who moves to Paris, but puts her life in danger there. Scheduled for release in Norway in August 2014.
Louder Than Bombs (2014) – cancelled
It was to be the next film by Joachim Trier, the man behind one of the finest European films of the last 10 years, Reprise (2006) and Oslo, 31 August (2011),but unfortunately, as Indiewire reports, production company Motlys could not get the financing done. It was supposed be an English-spoken feature starring the likes of Jesse Eisenberg and Isabelle Huppert, and would therefore be his biggest budget film thus far. At least his collaborator Eskil Vogt got his film made.
Other upcoming 2014 releases:
– Erik Skjoldbjeargh comes with a Norwegian thriller called Pioneer (2014).
– The popular horror flick Death snow’s sequel is scheduled for release – Death Snow 2 (2014).
– Liv Ulmann (famous for working with Ingmar Bergman) met Miss Julie (2014).
All of the above titles will be reviewed as soon as I get my hands on them.
Top 5 best norwegian films of the 10’s – (2000-2013)
Like noted above, Norway produces around 30 features a year. Also in 2013 this was the case, but although there were a few good films, the majority of them were not really worth mentioning. The amount of romantic comedies is surprising, but unfortunately they embark on all too familiar paths. A few Norwegian titles do deserve a mention, but are not good enough for the list. Two films were very interesting because of their original premise, but the execution lacked refinement. One is Få meg på, for faen (2011) which is a typical small-town coming of age story focusing on sexual exploration, but instead of a male protagonist we follow a young girl whose honesty about her sexual encounters is not appreciated.
Troll Hunter (2010) – anything more than a hype?
Directed by André Øvredal
Not part of my list, but it received so much attention that I feel it needs to be addressed. Yes, this picture stands at odds with other stylish stills showed so far. And indeed, initially I was skeptical about whether it is any good. But after all of the reviews heralding it as an amazingly entertaining flick, I was forced to find out for myself. It is not surprisingly described as the Norwegian horror film equivalent of The Blair Witch Project, but only in so far as it about a group of students who film their investigation of a mystery. So what do I think? I was skeptical, and I remain skeptical. What a load of crap. Variety claims it is hugely entertaining and thrilling, and others call it highly original. For me it’s just an uninspired school project that got out of hand. Perhaps its funny in how ridiculous it is, and would have been brilliant if its main purpose was to ironically portray conspiracy theories and the garbage fantasy writer can produce (but I guess that was not what they were going for). In other words, do not waste your time.
Now, the real deal
5. King of Devil’s Island (2011)
Directed by Marius Holst
Featuring Stellan Skarsgård, Benjamin Helstad and Trond Nilssen
At a Norwegian boys home located on a remote island a new inmate inspires the other boys to revolt. This conventional big-budget film is, very roughly speaking, a combination of The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner, If.., and Cool Hand Luke (but without an enigmatic substitute for Paul Newman). In a long line of hugely enjoyable films about kids revolting against the regimes of Juvenile penitentiaries and strict boarding schools, King of Devil’s Island does justice to the genre, but lacks the charm needed to make it great. To achieve authenticity, like in Jean Vigo’s Zero de conduit (1933) Marius Holst employs non-professional actors, but where in the French classic this works out wonderfully, here it is a disadvantage because the film relies too much on the dramatic performances of its characters.
On the next page you can read about the other recent Norwegian feature films, or check out our other new Scandinavian films.
The remaining films of my 2010-2014 Norwegian cinema top 5. From horror films, to crime thrillers and the best Norwegian drama film.
4. Kon-tiki (2012)
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Featuring Pål Sverre Hagen and Anders Baasmo Christiansen
Without a doubt the Norwegian film that created the biggest buzz, and was most successful worldwide. Recorded in both English and Norwegian, the film succeeded to be screened all around the world. I have already discussed it at length in the recent foreign adventure films article, but all you need to know is that it is a spectacular film in terms of cinematography, and the story is more than intriguing. It is the true story of scientist and explorer Thor Heyerdal who crossed the pacific ocean on only a wooden raft, to prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. Yes it reeks of Hollywood, and lacks nuance, but as an adventure flick it more than delivers.
3. En Ganske Snill mann (2010)
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Featuring Stellan Skarsgård and Bjørn Floberg
I have had mixed feelings about this crime tragicomedy. While watching it I enjoyed it, but later quickly forgot about it. However, when refreshing my memory I remembered some good elements. A Somewhat Gentle Man is from the director of the 2014 title Kraftidioten, Hans Petter Moland, and yet again features Skarsgard, but this time he himself is a Norwegian gangster. He is released from prison after serving 12 years for murder, and now has to deal with his estranged son, and his old gang. The film is shot in a cold and distant manner and is filled with black comedy, reminding one stylistically of Finnish director Kaurismaki, and there is even a hint of Anders Thomas Jensen present. So much so that I am not quite sure where their influence ends, and Moland’s touch begins.
2. I Belong – Som du Ser Meg (2012)
Directed by Dag Johan Haugerud
Som du Ser Meg aka I Belong is one of the most undeservedly overlooked Scandinavian films of the 10’s. I happened to stumble upon while doing my research, and I am very pleased that I did. This 2012 Norwegian film is essential viewing for those who love interpersonal drama’s that revolve around social situational themes. The film is divided into three thematically linked parts, all three are about characters in a book, and is told to us by the author who is recording her audiobook. What makes the film so great is that very cleverly shows us how people experience life and issues very differently. What is incredibly important to one person, can mean absolutely nothing to someone else. In I Belong situations are created in which these two radically different people have to tiptoe (but fail) around each other.
1. Oslo 31 August
Directed by Joachim Trier
Starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner and Ingrid Olava
We have arrived at the best Norwegian film of 2010 up to 2014, and I absolutely love it. After Reprise my expectations could not have been higher, but with Oslo 31 August Joachim Trier achieved what I was hoping for and more. It is a very fresh Norwegian drama about a young recovering drug-addict, and we get the chance to experience a day in his life – he got leave for a job interview and to catch up with old friends in Oslo. It is beautiful, tender and intimate, but equally devastating and disturbing. It teaches you about the absurdity of life, and is a true existential masterpiece.
Let me know what you think about recent 2010-2015 Norwegian cinema!