In from the cold: Nordic cinema breezes into Cannes

·4-min read

Nordic movies are among the hottest properties at Cannes this year, bringing their understated cool to the world's top film festival.

On its first full day Cannes fell head over heels for a Norwegian romantic drama, "The Worst Person in the World", the early favourite for its top prize, the Palme d'Or.

Previously unknown lead Renate Reinsve "takes off like a rocket" in the quirky romantic drama, gushed one critic.

While Joachim Trier's "gloriously sweet" story almost passes for fast-paced, other Nordic offerings require a bit more work before yielding their subtle pleasures, especially to viewers stepping into the cinemas from the hot and hectic bustle of the Cannes circus.

- 'Mild, tender' -

"The Nordics have a mild, tender gaze on the world. It's very discreet," said Sofia Norlin, a Paris-based Swedish director who also writes for film magazine Point of View.

"It's like a door that opens slowly to cast light on the shadows, and on the faultlines of life. It's very smooth," she told AFP.

Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen, whose "Compartment No 6" is also vying for Cannes' top prize admits that his minimalist style risks slipping below the radar of viewers as they watch a slow train rumbling north in snowbound post-Soviet Russia.

"I worry whether people get those nuances, but if I exaggerated those feelings, the humour and the sadness, then it wouldn't be my film," he told AFP.

"I feel I'm always putting on the soft pedal, always doing less, and even less."

Nothing much happens at first in the Arctic trip bringing together a Finnish wannabe archaeologist and an rough-and-ready Russian worker who travel from Moscow to "that shithole" Murmansk, as the Russian calls it.

"You need to get on the wavelength first, but then you start to see the details," Kuosmanen said. "It's a film full of love and good humour, but most of it happens at the end. You can't have light without the darkness."

- 'We're not that loud' -

Another slow-moving Cannes movie, Icelandic entry "Lamb" by Valdimar Johannsson, brings sumptuous landscapes into the equation in a tale of a couple in a remote corner of Iceland grieving for the loss of a child, and who get a wondrous second chance at parenthood.

It's another slow burner, starring Noomi Rapace, more than a decade after the Swedish actress achieved world fame as the badass hacker Lisbeth Salander in the "Millennium" trilogy.

"We're quite minimalistic, we're not that loud," Rapace told AFP. "I'm loud, but I'm the exception," she laughed.

Emmy winner Rapace regularly plays in big productions, which include Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" and Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows", but regularly returns to Scandinavia to shoot arty, independent films, such as "Lamb" in which she plays an Icelandic-speaking character for the first time.

"I feel like there's a great wave of amazing film-makers now in Scandinavia," she said. "It feels like a movement, an earthquake. There's a kind of contagious bravery that's spreading."

- A French take -

Mia Hansen-Love displayed a different kind of bravery with her decision to take her French director's eye to the remote Swedish island of Faro for her main competition entry "Bergman Island".

The rugged windswept scenery where Ingmar Bergman produced several of his films is not just the backdrop for the story around a couple of film directors looking for inspiration, but a discreet character in its own right.

"In that sense, Mia Hansen-Love adopts some of the Scandinavian style of cinema," said Norlin.

"Bergman Island" stars Tim Roth opposite Vicky Krieps, the Luxembourg actress on her way to global stardom since "Phantom Thread" with Daniel Day-Lewis.

Chris, Krieps's character in "Bergman Island" has no qualms about challenging Bergman the myth.

Her fearlessness echos the strength of female characters often found in Nordic cinema, including several showing at the festival.

Cannes juries over the years have awarded several Palmes d'Or to films from Sweden and Denmark, but none to Norway, Finland or Iceland.

The festival ends on Saturday.

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