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The violence, beauty and originality of Scandinavian cinema

‘Can I flick your face?’ asks the icily sociopathic Charles Augustus Magnussen, played by Lars Mikkelsen.  It’s one of the oddest, most compelling scenes of the Sherlock season 3 finale.  Mikkelsen is an actor of unusual presence, appearing in Scandinavian TV show The Killing, and is the brother of Mads.  He steals the screen. A sweaty-palmed, manipulative genius, urinating in 221B Baker Street’s fireplace; his performance but a mere  drop in the river of Danish and Swedish film-making talent.

Such actors are the reason I have recently found fascination in the frosty, fairisle-strewn atmosphere of Scandinavian cinema. Add to that the beautiful, otherworldly locations and a sense of realism absent from most Hollywood fare. I’ve compiled a small list of my recent favourite discoveries in Scandinavian film.  Even if you have no love for subtitles, I urge you to at least try one.

The Hunt (2012)

Starring Mads Mikkelsen, who was breaker of Bond’s balls, literally, in Casino Royale and likes to sup chianti with spleen in Hannibal the TV Series.  Mikkelsen plays a primary school teacher accused of a terrible crime of sexual abuse and its subsequent effect on the community.  Nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars (2014).  A powerful, unflinching look at a subject that makes Hollywood’s blood run cold (save for a few films, such The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon, that take on this subject matter).  The film explores accusations of paedophilia and the ensuing witch hunts that occur in our media and communities at near hysterical levels in these modern times. Despite the subject matter, incredibly watchable, touching and a magnetic main performance.

Ondskan (2003)

A fantastically brutal, unrelenting study into the nature of violence, both physical and psychological,and the abuse of power. Set in a boys’ boarding school, this is like Dead Poets Society with a knuckleduster. Blood splatters the camera frequently and the levels of violence involving children go harder than most would dare.  The real horror, however is the controlled abuse of the protagonist’s stepfather and the school prefects who give out punishments and the wilful ignorance of this by the teachers.

King Of Devils’s Island (2010)

Based on a true story,  a ‘borstal’ style boys island prison in the 1930s is home to beatings, humiliation and forced labour.  Powerfully touches on the themes of sailing, escapism and the class system.

The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)

Based on the Department Q novels by Jussi Adler-Olsen, this is a thrilling and nasty police procedural thriller. Detective Carl Mørck and his assistant take up the ‘cold case’ of a politician’s disappearance – a case that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.  Featuring a truly unpleasant nemesis with a gruesomely inventive ‘method’ that involves the worst use of diving equipment imaginable,  this is really compelling  and the ending points towards further film adaptions of the novels.

Of the ‘remade for America’ Scandinavian movies, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is far superior in its original, TV movie extended form, despite David Fincher’s slick remake: Naomi Rapace defines the role of Lisbeth Salander and the full depth of the trilogy can be appreciated. The trilogy is currently around £12 on Amazon, a great package for about 10 hours of drama.  Let The Right One In is also far superior in its original form, retaining more of a sense of innocence and otherworldliness, which suits the melodic twists of the Swedish language perfectly.

The increased success of its actors and directors in Hollwood, particularly Nicolas Winding Refyn, who brings an art-house mentality to mainstream cinema, shows that Scandinavian cinema is becoming more interesting to us and to studios who are prepared to experiment a little more. This can only be a good thing. Watch some of the trailers above, see if any capture your interest, comment below.