For a group of countries so far removed from our shores, Scandinavia looms surprisingly large in our culture, due in no small part from the strength of its filmic output.

Now in its second year, the 2015 Scandinavian Film Festival program brings us the best of recent Danish, Norse and Swedish cinema, featuring everything from broad satire to searching relationship dramas. And if you’re after a bit of crime in a cold climate, there’s plenty of that too.

With a line-up of past winners from Sundance, Cannes and the Academy Awards, the Festival isn’t short on star power. One of the big highlights is the Australian premiere of Grimur Hakonarson’s Rams (Hrutar), awarded top prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section. Described by Cannes Jury President Isabella Rossellini as a film that “[treats] in a masterful, tragicomic way the undeniable bond that links all humans to animals,” Rams looks at two brothers living in a remote Icelandic farming valley who haven’t spoken to each other in forty years, but find themselves coming together to save what matters most: their prize-winning sheep.

The Festival is book-ended by two strong entries. Opening night is Norwegian-Swedish road movie Here is Harold (Her er Harold), a comedy about the owner of a small furniture shop who sets out to kidnap the founder of Ikea after the furniture giant opens a superstore right next door, sending him bankrupt. There’s only one hitch: it turns out the head of Ikea is just a little too happy to go along with Harold’s plan.

Closing night is the documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Jag ar Ingrid), fresh from Cannes (where it received a special mention for L'Œil d'or). Director Stig Bjorkman creates a vivid portrait of the famed Swedish actress through access to her diary, interviews with friends and family, and never before seen private footage.

Other highlights of the seventeen-day Scandinavian Film Festival include:

Young Sophie Bell
After graduating from high school, best friends Sophie and Alice intend to move to Berlin to start their lives for real, but plans are shattered when Alice disappears in mysterious circumstances and Sophie is left to pick up the pieces. Young Sophie Bell is director Amanda Adolfsson’s highly anticipated debut feature.

Underdog
Swedish-Finnish actress and well-known comedian Bianca Kronlöf plays Dino, a 23 year-old who has fled her homeland for steady work and a better life in Oslo, Norway. But what she finds there will change her life forever, as a housekeeping job for a wealthy ex-sports star leads to a scandalous and intense love triangle. Kronlöf will be in Australia for the festival, and will appear at a Q&A session after select screenings.

The Absent One
This sequel to hit crime drama The Keeper of Lost Causes reunites the cast and crew for another Department Q thriller. This time the Copenhagen cold case unit reopens an investigation into a double murder of twin siblings that took place at one of the country’s most exclusive boarding schools back in the 1990s.

Homesick
Anne Sewitsky (winner of Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in 2011 for her debut feature, Happy, Happy) is back with an intimate portrayal of a young woman desperately trying to rewrite past emotional injuries after her estranged half-brother materialises unexpectedly in her life.

Life in a Fish Bowl
Winner of Best Film, Actor, Actress, Director and seven more statues at the Edda (Icelandic Academy) Awards, this unsparing Icelandic drama tells three tales of a trio of characters who have a lasting effect on one another. A naturalistic portrait of everyday life in Reykjavik on the eve of the country’s 2008 economic meltdown, it touched a nerve on home turf and became one of the country’s biggest-ever domestic hits.

The Scandinavian Film Festival runs from Thursday July 9 to Sunday July 26 at the Palace Verona and Palace Norton Street. Tickets on sale now from www.scandinavianfilmfestival.com
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