If you’re familiar with Scandi noir, you’ll know it comes with plenty of thrills, from the dry humour and rich character development to the bleakly beautiful scenery and unflinching plot twists. But that’s just the tip of the formidable iceberg that is Nordic cinema, and stories of truly all shapes and sizes will come to the fore as the 2024 Saxo Scandinavian Film Festival travels to seven Australian cities from July 17 to August 14.

A special guest at this year’s festival will be Christof Wehmeier, head of International & Festival Promotion at the Icelandic Film Centre. As well as promoting Icelandic shorts, feature films, documentaries and TV series, he works with other Nordic film institutions under the newly minted umbrella of The Five Nordics. Born and raised in Germany to a German father and Icelandic mother, Wehmeier previously worked as a marketing executive for major Hollywood studios.

That makes him an expert indeed on the rich variety of Scandi cinema that’s coming our way. “All of the five Nordic countries have their own image and identity,” he says. “There’s always this realism that shines through in Nordic films. We can tackle the drama that is in our lives, but also have this excitement and comedy together with it. We have this Nordic voice that we can share with the world. I think Australians are quite taken with it.”

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Below, Wehmeier singles out five highlights from this year’s packed program.

When the Light Breaks (Iceland)

Wehmeier will introduce this film before a special presentation at Palace Cinema Como on July 20. When the Light Breaks is the fourth feature helmed by writer-director Runar Runarsson, who earned an Oscar nomination for his 2008 short film 2 Birds. It was the opening film in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

“It’s a very powerful film,” says Wehmeier. “It’s about the death of a girl’s boyfriend, and the aftermath of how she tackles grief and loss. It’s about how younger people communicate and process these things. The way he shows it in the film is breathtaking, and the soundtrack is haunting. It stays with you after the screening.”

Songs of Earth (Norway)

The festival’s sole documentary this year is a doozy. Filmmaker Margreth Olin captures the natural wonders of western Norway’s remote Oldedalen region while being guided by her 84-year-old father, a lifelong enthusiast of the great outdoors. It’s not just about this remarkable landscape, but also Olin’s bond with her parents as they advance in age, accompanied by a moving score from Norwegian composer Rebekka Karijord and the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s the festival’s closing night film, with a drink on arrival at all screenings.

“It’s a beautiful portrait of nature and human emotions,” says Wehmeier. “It’s basically a homage to Earth… There are strikingly beautiful shots, but it also touches on other connections between parents and children. I highly recommend it to Australian audiences.”

Sons (Denmark)

Writer-director Gustav Moller is a master of the modern thriller, as seen in his 2018 breakout The Guilty and its 2021 American remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Sons follows a middle-aged security officer at a correctional facility, who transfers to the high-security block with the covert aim to oversee a new prisoner. As she and the young and violent object of her fixation lock into a high-stakes escalation, this sinewy Scandi noir doesn’t lose an ounce of suspense.

The Guilty was a fantastic thriller about one person on the phone, building up tension,” says Wehmeier. “This new one is fantastic as well. I love the way he creates this electrifying tension in his films. It shows that you don’t need a million dollars of CGI, just a great story, first and foremost.”

The Tundra Within Me (Norway)

The directorial debut from former reindeer herder Sara Margrethe Oskal, The Tundra Within Me, is an up-to-date look at the Sami, the indigenous peoples of the Nordic regions. It centres on a Sami artist and mother who falls for a reindeer herder. The story quietly focuses on social and generational expectations as well as the evolving quest for selfhood and identity.

“It depicts Sami culture like I haven’t seen it before,” says Wehmeier. “It’s realistic, but it’s also a feel-good love story that we can relate to. It’s from the Sami perspective, which is something we’re going to see a lot more of. It’s really interesting and needed. It’s past-meets-present, in terms of what’s happening with Sami culture.”

Touch (Iceland)

Based on the novel by Olafur Johann Olafsson, which has been translated into languages all over the world, Touch is a very different kind of movie from director Baltasar Kormakur, who previously helmed the Mark Wahlberg action film Contraband and the harsh survival saga Everest. It appears at the festival as a special presentation, following a debut in American theatres in mid-July.

“It’s a universal love story that crosses borders,” says Wehmeier. “It’s shot on location in Japan, Iceland and the UK. It’s this classic tale of love, and a visual feast that’s unbelievably well-made. Most of the film takes place in Japan. The main character is very sick but he wants to look up his old love interest, who is a beautiful woman living in Japan. So it’s his voyage from Iceland over to Japan in Covid times. It’s a voyage of love, but it’s not cliched.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Palace Cinemas.