There is so much more to Scandinavian films than just Nordic noir, and nothing highlights this better than the Scandinavian Film Festival, which runs for three weeks over July and August. Filmmaking from the Scandi region (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland) has such a rich history – from Bergman to von Trier – so the festival is an opportunity to see some of the most distinct and exciting films being made today.
“I don’t think there’s any other region producing films that are so varied and delivered in such unique fashion,” says Zak Hepburn, curator of film and screen culture at Palace and one of the programmers at this year’s festival. “This year’s line-up is really impressive, it’s a great showcase of that really unbridled sort of creativity. There’s such a great community of filmmakers working together over there who continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”
The 2023 line-up covers almost everything, from Nordic noir thrillers to historical docudramas, lightweight comedies and examinations of landscapes on the very edge of human habitation. For Hepburn, what unites them beyond their common region is a shared storytelling sensibility that strives to keep things fresh.
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“Even the most simple narrative is showcased and delivered in inventive and unique ways,” he says. “The scripts never pander to their audience. There’s a great sort of utilisation of showing not telling throughout, and that’s something that audiences, I think, really engage with.”
There are 28 features on offer, giving audiences a snapshot of the current state of Scandinavian film. If you’re struggling to know where to start, here are Hepburn’s top five picks for this year’s festival.
A multi-award-winning drama from writer and director Ole Giæver and this year’s opening-night film, Let the River Flow is one of the more anticipated films debuting at this year’s festival. “It’s a really strong opening-night film,” says Hepburn. “It’s based on real events of indigenous struggles and survival in the 1970s throughout Norway.”
The film follows the journey of 23-year-old schoolteacher Ester (newcomer Ella Marie Haetta Isaksen) as she rediscovers her pride in her Sami heritage while protesting a hydroelectric project that threatens to flood her native lands. “It’s really impressive, both as a drama and as film making,” says Hepburn.
Fallen Leaves is the latest feature from celebrated director Aki Kaurismäki, and shows off his trademark deadpan humour and the warmth with which he highlights his characters’ downbeat circumstances. The focus this time is on a downtrodden supermarket worker and a frequently drunk metalworker who fall in love while the radio provides constant updates on the war in Ukraine.
“It’s a lovely comedic romance,” says Hepburn. “We’re showing it direct from the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. It’s just a really great film.”
This year’s centrepiece feature, Godland is a historical drama from writer and director Hlynur Pálmason about a Danish priest who treks across the unexplored wilds of Iceland in the 1800s. But the further into the spectacular landscape he goes, the further he drifts from his mission and the morality that’s meant to be guiding him.
“Godland is a real big-screen experience,” says Hepburn. “It reminds me of a classic 1970s period piece where the drama is really focused on showcasing this unexplored Iceland location. The cinematography of it is amazing, it’s definitely one to see on the big screen.”
Screening as part of the Scandi Screams program, Border starts off with the story of a customs officer who develops a strange connection with a traveller, but there’s plenty more going on below the surface. “It takes what sounds on paper to be a very straightforward relationship drama between two characters who meet and spins it with this strange atmosphere of otherness,” says Hepburn.
“We’re really so happy to bring it to audiences, it remains really one of the strangest films, and one of the most unique films, I think I’ve seen in a number of years.”
Darkland was a big Danish box office hit in 2017, and this is the highly anticipated sequel. It tells the story of surgeon Zaid (Dar Salim), who went on a murderous rampage through the criminal underworld to avenge the murder of his brother. Seven years later, he’s offered a chance to leave prison behind and be reunited with his seven-year-old son – but only if he accepts a police deal to work as an undercover agent, a job that rapidly spirals out of control and threatens the safety of him and his family.
“It’s a great showcase of the Scandi noir thriller aesthetic – it’ll definitely keep audiences on the edge of their seats,” says Hepburn.
The Scandinavian Film Festival runs at Palace Cinemas from late July to early August, with dates differing in each state. See more details and book tickets.
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Palace Cinemas.