Monday, October 26, 2009

Nordic Spotlight

Denmark leads the pack with 3 entries followed by one each from Sweden and Finland.

The Blessing (2009, Denmark, Heidi Maria Faisst)
Original title: Velsignelsen

This impressive debut feature tackles a topic I have never seen on film -- the day to day challenges that takes place for a couple after their baby is born. Most movies only go as far as showing the child birth process and focus their energies on packing in as many jokes and incorrect information leading up to the birth (example: unlike in most movies, a woman's water breaking does not mean that the baby will be delivered right away). So it is refreshing to see a movie that realistically portrays the complications and stress that takes place from not only from feeding the baby but handling the familial relationships that surround the arrival of a newborn. The young mother shown in the film suffers from post-partum depression and her situation is complicated by the fact that she is unable to feed her baby while having a strained relationship with her own mother. The husband does not understand the wife's situation and when he is away on a business trip, she slips further into misery and depression.

The film does an excellent job in depicting things as they are without spelling anything out. For example, the words "post-partum depression" are never mentioned nor are reasons given as to why the baby is crying (unable to drink milk). Any stoppages for explanations would have ruined the film's flow and one can imagine how such a script churned through a Hollywood studio would look quite dramatic and formulaic.

The film got a jury prize at the Göteborg festival.

An interview with Heidi Maria Faisst.

Guidance (2009, Sweden, Johan Jonason)

Just when Ylva is losing hope in finding a treatment for husband’s worsening depression, a young man approaches her to offer a radical treatment to cure her husband Roy. She convinces Roy to try this new treatment in a bid not to only cure him but to save their marriage. The treatment involves Roy to break contact with the outside world and as a result he finds himself stuck in a farmhouse located in the middle of nowhere where this young therapist goes about imparting his version of holistic treatment. But as it turns out, the young man is in more need of spiritual help than Roy.

This fascinating film shares the core sentiment of Todd Hayne's Safe in poking fun at so called spiritual teachers and does so with varying shades of ironic, dry and dark humour. The Dogma 95 style treatment gives the film a realistic feel and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions of either horror or absurdity.

Little Soldier (2008, Denmark, Annette K. Olesen)
Original title: Lille soldat

This rugged film tackles many brutal issues ranging from prostitution to human trafficking to the lingering scars of war. After Lotte (Trine Dyrholm) returns to Denmark drained from her war experience, her father offers her a job as a car driver for his escort business. The escort service needs a strong driver who isn't afraid to deal with hostile clients and Lotte fits the bill perfectly. That is until, she starts to sympathize with the conditions of the women in the sex trade, especially Lily (Lorna Brown). Lotte's background as a soldier and the cold relationship with her father certainly brings a new and sobering perspective to the prostitution trade run in some European countries.

Three Wise Men (2008, Finland, Mika Kaurismäki)
Original title: Kolme viisasta miestä

Mika Kaurismäki presents an interesting portrayal of the three main character's collective misfortunes and failures. A person is expected to gain wisdom with age, so goes the saying. While the film's three males have certainly aged, they are still grappling to gain any wisdom. Through the course of the film, their characters evolve and become a bit wiser, although with some pain and tears. The film does start to run out of steam near the end but is still engaging, albeit packed with plenty of misery.

The Escape (2009, Denmark, Kathrine Windfeld)
Original title: Flugten

Quite a relevant story about Afghanistan, journalism and political decisions about refugees. The film is about a Danish journalist Rikki (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity and The Boss of it All) who escapes from the Taliban and reaches back to Denmark where she is proclaimed a hero. A colleague suspects something and sets about to dig up the real story because he believes the saying that no one escapes from the Taliban. But the truth isn't clear cut and things get murky soon enough. The film does take plenty of short cuts in portraying the story but still there are some worthy debating points in the film, especially regarding war criminals and refugees.

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