Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2018: A Preview

The first weekend of 2018 welcomes “top films from the top of Europe” at the annual Scandinavian Film Festival Los Angeles (SFFLA). Despite its name, the scope of the festival actually extends beyond Scandinavia. Besides films from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, festival goers can view films from Iceland and Finland as well as Baltic neighbors Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The festival will take place over two weekends, January 6 & 7 and 20 & 21, at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.

This year film enthusiasts have the opportunity to see all the Nordic and Baltic countries’ submissions for Best Foreign Language Film for the upcoming 90th Oscars:

  • Norway – Thelma directed by Joachim Trier
  • Sweden – The Square directed by Ruben Östlund
  • Denmark – You Disappear (Du forsvinder) directed by Peter Schønau Fog
  • Iceland – Under the Tree (Undir trénu) directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson
  • Finland – Tom of Finland directed by Dome Karukoski
  • Latvia – The Chronicles of Melanie (Melānijas hronika) directed by Viesturs Kairišs
  • Estonia – November directed by Rainer Sarnet
  • Lithuania – Frost (Šerkšnas) directed by Šarūnas Bartas

Only Sweden’s submission made it to the shortlist of nine films in the Foreign Language Film category. The documentary Kayayo by Norwegian Mari Bakke Riise, which is also on the festival’s schedule this year, is one of ten films on the shortlist for the Documentary Short Subject category. All Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 23. The 90th Oscars will take place on Sunday, March 4.

At SFFLA’s Opening Gala on Saturday, January 6, at 6:00 p.m., guests can enjoy drinks and a buffet meal with other Scandi film enthusiasts. Gala tickets also include Opening Ceremonies at 7:15 p.m. and Denmark’s feature film You Disappear at 7:30 p.m.

Below you’ll find a list of films by country. Descriptions are taken from films’ websites when possible. On SFFLA’s website, you can view and download a chronological schedule. Please confirm schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published.


* NORWAY *

Kayayo, The Living Shopping Baskets

Short Documentary by Mari Bakke Riise (2016); On Oscars Shortlist for Best Documentary Short Subject; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 12:00 p.m.

In the capital of Ghana, thousands of girls from the age of 6 work as real-life shopping baskets, called Kayayo, carrying heavy loads on their heads. This documentary is about Bamunu, an 8-year-old girl who hasn’t seen her family since she was sent away from home two years ago to work as a Kayayo to support her family. We follow her incessant longing to get away from the harsh markets, her journey back home and what awaits there. (32 minutes, visit film’s website)

Thelma

Feature Film by Joachim Trier (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 5:00 p.m.

Thelma, a shy young student, has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma’s powerful attraction. As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja – feelings she doesn’t dare acknowledge, even to herself – while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures. As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers. (116 minutes, visit film’s website)

Northbound (Mot Nord)

Short Documentary by Jørn Nyseth Ranum (2015); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 11:30 a.m.

Ice, driftwood, foamy waves, and … skateboards? In this poetic short film, four skaters head north to the cold Norwegian coast, applying their urban skills to a wild canvas of beach flotsam, frozen sand, and pastel skies. The result is a beautiful mashup — biting winds and short days, ollies and one epic miniramp. (11 minutes, visit film’s website)

Nothing Ever Really Ends (Ingenting tar noensinne slutt)

Short Film by Jakob Rørvik (2016); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 4:00 p.m.

Marius and Ebba´s relationship is one long struggle, interspersed with failed attempts at breaking up. Nothing Ever Really Ends is a melancholic comedy about love and dysfunction told on New Years Eve, three years in a row. (23 minutes, visit film’s website)

Late Summer (Sensommer)

Feature Film by Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken (2016); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 4:30 p.m.

An elderly Norwegian writer has retreated to a remote villa on the French west coast. A young foreign couple on a motorcycle vacation gets a motor stop just outside her property. It is far to the nearest mechanic, so she allows them to stay overnight, thus setting the stage for a triangular drama based on the pregnancy of the young woman. Gradually, dark secrets surface from the past and the young couple’s arrival does not seem so random anymore. (72 minutes, visit film’s website)


* SWEDEN *

The Square

Feature Film by Ruben Östlund (2017); On Oscars Shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 3:30 p.m.

Christian is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations. Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for ”The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis. (151 minutes, visit film’s website)

Strawberry Days (Jordgubbslandet)

Feature Film by Wiktor Ericsson (2017); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 7:30 p.m.

Set in the beautiful strawberry fields in the Swedish south, this is a story about love between the son of a Polish guest worker and the daughter of a Swedish farmer. It depicts a world full of divergency and prejudice. (93 minutes, visit film’s website)

The Ex-Wife (Exfrun)

Feature Film by Katja Wik (2017); Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 12:00 p.m.

Klara is newly in love and all she wants is to be close to Jacob. Anna times her husband with a stopwatch when he gets their baby’s bottle ready. Vera can’t let go of her former husband. With humour and seriousness, The Ex-Wife tells the story of three relationships, where the Girlfriend, the Wife, and the Ex-wife all come together in a revealing satire of the arc of relationships – from falling in love to divorce. (90 minutes)


* DENMARK *

You Disappear (Du forsvinder)

Feature Film by Peter Schønau Fog; Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 7:30 p.m.

Mia is married to the successful headmaster Frederik, who is caught embezzling from his own school. But did he do this of his own free will – or has his personality been altered by the tumour lurking in his brain? Mia is desperate to uncover what kind of man she is actually married to. If the happiest three years of Mia’s life with Frederik were while he had a tumour in his brain, who was she married to before? You Disppear is a movie about the challenges we face as neuroscience forces us to rethink what we are as human beings. (117 minutes, visit film’s website)

The Dolphin (Delfinen)

Short Film by Laurits Munch-Petersen (2017); Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 12:00 p.m.

Anna takes her 7-years old son Robert to the beach to finish his swimming course, the DOLPHIN, but something is terribly wrong and Anna needs to face reality. (29 minutes)

Across the Waters (Fuglene over sundet)

Feature Film by Nicolo Donato (2016); Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 7:00 p.m.

Enjoying the nightlife of 1943 Copenhagen, jazz guitarist Arne Itkin is seemingly immune to the hardships of war, as the Danish government opts for a compliant relationship with Nazi Germany. He is initially skeptical when his terrified wife Miriam hears rumors of the round-up and deportation of Danish Jews. An overnight raid, however, forces the couple to flee their home with five-year-old son Jakob. Aided by a church pastor and underground resistance, they set out on a journey for the fishing village of Gilleleje, where refugees await passage to Sweden by boat. Amidst lurking danger from the Gestapo and their collaborators, the family puts its fate in the hands of strangers whose allegiance and motives are not always clear. (95 minutes)


* ICELAND *

Under the Tree (Undir trénu)

Feature Film by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 3:15 p.m.

When Baldwin and Inga’s next door neighbours complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbours in the suburbs unexpectedly and violently spirals out of control. (89 minutes)

Summer Children (Sumarbörn)

Feature Film by Gu∂rún Ragnarsdóttir (2017); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 12:30 p.m.

Siblings Eydís and Kári are only five and six years old when their parents’ marriage breaks apart. Following the divorce they are sent temporarily to a children’s home in the countryside. But when the stay turns out to be longer than they had expected, Eydís and Kári take matters into their own hands. (84 minutes)


* FINLAND *

Tom of Finland

Feature Film by Dome Karukoski (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 7:30 p.m.

Touko Laaksonen, a decorated officer, returns home after a harrowing and heroic experience serving his country in World War II, but life in Finland during peacetime proves equally distressing. He finds peace-time Helsinki rampant with persecution of the homosexual men around him, even being pressured to marry women and have children. Touko finds refuge in his liberating art, specializing in homoerotic drawings of muscular men, free of inhibitions. His work – made famous by his signature “Tom of Finland” – became the emblem of a generation of men and fanned the flames of a gay revolution.

Miami

Feature Film by Zaida Bergroth (2017); Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 4:30 p.m.

Angela blows into a small town in the Finnish countryside, dazzling the locals with her exotic dancer troupe, sequined swirls and megawatt smile. After a nasty encounter backstage she leaves town just as fast, only now with her estranged half-sister Anna (21) in tow. Anna gladly exchanges a dreary life in a bakery for an adrenaline-fueled existence on stage. Happy to be closer to her glamorous older sister, she embraces the world of exotic dancing. But none of the champagne bubbles and sparkly makeup can protect her as she tries blackmail to save Angela from the trouble that keeps following her. Dark forces from the underworld test their newly found sisterhood.


* LATVIA *

The Chronicles of Melanie (Melānijas hronika)

Feature Film by Viesturs Kairišs (2016); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 1:00 p.m.

The film “The Chronicles of Melanie” is based on the life story of Melānija Vanaga, a Latvian woman who managed to survive her deportation to Siberia. It is a truthful account of the miracle of human character, magnitude of the human spirit and the painful destinies, which were a part of the greatest tragedy facing the Latvian nation. It is the story of Latvian women who had to suffer and survive physically and emotionally in order for Latvia to live.


* ESTONIA *

November

Feature Film by Rainer Sarnet (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 1:00 p.m.

The story is set in a pagan Estonian village where werewolves, the plague, and spirits roam. The villagers’ main problem is how to survive the cold, dark winter. And, to that aim, nothing is taboo. People steal from each other, from their German manor lords, and from spirits, the devil, and Christ. The main character of the film is a young farm girl named Liina who is hopelessly and forlornly in love with a village boy named Hans.

The Dissidents (Sangarid)

Feature Film by Jaak Kilmi (2017); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 2:30 p.m.

This action comedy takes us back to the 1980’s as three young Estonian guys flee the Soviet Union to the West, to get to live an awesome life just as they’ve seen in “Miami Vice” and “Knight Rider.” At first the Swedes welcome them as real heroes, who broke through the iron curtain, but soon they’re regarded as just more tedious immigrants. To put food on the table they have to do something as lame as…work! But the boys are no quitters, so they come up with a plan that should guarantee success in the Western world.


* LITHUANIA *

Frost (Šerkšnas)

Feature Film by Šarūnas Bartas (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 2:00 p.m.

A young Lithuanian who, intent on understanding war and hence his people, boards a humanitarian convoy bound from Lithuania to the Ukraine’s war-torn Donbass region. Falling in with two war reporters, one a woman, he is plunged into the turmoil of war where the trio will be forced to overcome their psychological limits and build a strong relationship. They do not agree upon anything, except for their wish to be where they are, each of them for their own reasons. (132 minutes)


What festival films look interesting to you?

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