Arts / Glimpsing the dark sides of Scandinavia

“Small Town Killers”… billed as a “gleefully inappropriate comedy”.

THE upcoming Scandinavian Film Festival is testimony to the influence weather can have on the psyche.

Ebullient Danish ambassador Tom Nørring admits that the very short days and long nights partly explain the phenomenon that we know as “Nordic noir”. Think “The Killing”, “Wallander” and the “Millennium” trilogy.

“Noir”, of course, is a French word meaning “black” but it has long been used to describe a cinematic phenomenon in which crime dramas expose the dark heart of mankind, filmed in a subdued and restrained style.

It’s easy to see why Denmark’s film directors have taken to film noir and in the coming festival the relatively small country is contributing a whopping eight films to the line-up, most of them screened multiple times.

“Years ago it was the Swedes who excelled in film – remember Ingmar Bergman,” the ambassador says.

“But we are having a nice time now, a nice, long time.”

Nørring puts this “nice time” down to the founding of Copenhagen’s National Film School of Denmark in 1966, where the emphasis was not on costly production or popular films but on proper training.

He personally deplores the clichéd films associated with Hollywood where everything is “mega, staged and all colour”, so he is happy to claim for Denmark the striking cinema movement, “Dogme”. Spearheaded by Danish film directors Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier, who later directed Nicole Kidman in “Dogville”, the “Dogme 95 Manifesto” reminded the film world that fake plots, fake sets, excessive technology and hauteur directing can kill the art of cinema.

The consequences can be seen in many of the Danish offerings in this year’s festival. In the smash hit “A Conspiracy of Faith”, famous cold-case detectives Carl Mørck and Assad reunite for a horrifying case in rural Denmark and find themselves drawn into a world of religious fanaticism.

“Darkland”… an upper-class successful Danish surgeon of Muslim heritage is drawn back into the dodgy neighbourhood where he grew up.

In “Darkland”, directed by Fenar Ahmad, an upper-class successful Danish surgeon of Muslim heritage is drawn back into the dodgy neighbourhood where he grew up when his criminal brother is found murdered.

Nørring can’t help mentioning his country’s many Oscars awards and nominations for fiction, docos, short films, actors and directors, and the huge success of Danish TV series such as “Borgen”, which predated the real-life election of a female PM and the long-running series “1864”, which resurfaces in the festival as a feature film, said to be “as compelling as any Nordic noir”.

“1864”… said to be “as compelling as any Nordic noir”.

It would be wrong to suppose that just because a film is Nordic, it’s gloomy and, indeed, the festival opens with Finland’s comedy “The Other Side of Hope”.

But noir lovers need not fear, even the comedy has a dark side. In Danish writer/director Ole Bornedal’s “Small Town Killers”, billed as a “gleefully inappropriate comedy”, two tradesmen hire a Russian contract killer to take out their spouses, a story played in “Nordic deadpan” style, with touches of the Coen Brothers. Definitely noir.

The 2017 Scandinavian Film Festival, Palace Electric Cinemas, until August 2. Bookings and all program details at


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