There are a lot of cliches floating around about Scandinavia: beautiful people, incredible landscapes and brutal crime fiction. But there’s also some pretty incredible cinema from the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier and Lukas Moodysson. This steady stream of talent shows no sign of abating because the Scandinavian Film Festival, kicking off in Sydney this week, is consistently one of the most interesting seasons of world cinema on the calendar. This year’s offering is no exception. Let’s take a tour of 2016’s offerings:

Welcome to Norway (Norway)
In the ironically titled Welcome to Norway! a dodgy racist converts his ailing hotel into refugee accommodation, all in the name of reaping government funding and profiting from misery. Director Rune Langlo Denstad's modest, small-scale comedy covers some lofty political material with politically incorrect irreverence, but also a lot of heart and conscience.

Welcome to Norway! plays at Palace Norton Street and Palace Verona from July 5–23.

scandinavianfilmfestival.com/films/welcome-to-norway

Pusher trilogy (Denmark)
Before Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was recognised around the world for Drive, he had a substantial cult reputation for Pusher, his 1996 debut about a botched drug deal. Shot with a realist eye more akin to Scorsese than Tarantino, the dank, seedy Copenhagen of Pusher is a million miles from the neon violence of Drive. Refn revisited the world of Pusher two more times during the decade following, focusing on supporting characters – and the sequels are just as brutal and just as good.

The Pusher trilogy is playing at the Chauvel on consecutive Saturdays from July 9–23.

scandinavianfilmfestival.com/films/the-pusher-trilogy

Absolution (Finland)
Guilt and revenge are the orders of the day in Absolution, a tense thriller built on a snap decision which haunts a young family. In an effort to get his in-labour wife to hospital, Lauri hits an unidentified animal. He speeds on. But after the baby is born, and the couple meet the wife of a hit-and-run victim currently in a coma in the same hospital, the moral thicket deepens. See this if you enjoyed Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt (2012, Denmark). It covers similar murky moral territory.

Absolution plays at Palace Norton Street and Palace Verona from July 8–24.

scandinavianfilmfestival.com/films/absolution

The Yard (Sweden)
A depressed writer, played drily by Anders Mossling, sabotages his own writing career and gets a dead-end job in a car shipment yard. As employee #11811, he tackles loneliness, the mistreatment of fellow staff, and endless, menial work. There’s no lessons of humility being learned here, or heartstrings being tugged: The Yard is unsentimental, stoic and dry. Director Mans Mansson keeps things emotionally distant and moves the action along at a glacial pace, but there’s a lot to be said for the grace and cold beauty of a gritty, melting glacier. You won’t be able to look away.

The Yard plays at Palace Norton Street and Palace Verona from July 6–26.

scandinavianfilmfestival.com/films/absolution

Sparrows (Iceland)
Iceland is transcendentally beautiful, but anyone who's listened to Sigur Ros knows beauty and constant sunlight can hide some grim stuff. In Sparrows, adolescent Ari is forced to move to the middle of nowhere to live with his deadbeat father. It’s a coming-of-age story, and a good one – it has been showered with praise and awards at half a dozen festivals in the past year, including Prague, Chicago, San Sebastián and São Paolo. Visually it’s about the scale of the landscape he’s up against: from the tiny white aeroplane he flies in on, to the boxy houses set into the sides of great green mountains under endless white sky, and a sun that never quite sets. But lets talk about Sigur Ros again – keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson provides the gently melancholic score, rounding the film out beautifully.

Sparrows plays at Palace Norton Street and Palace Verona from July 8–22.

scandinavianfilmfestival.com/films/sparrows

The Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival runs from July 5–27 at various Palace Cinemas.

scandinavianfilmfestival.com