Three to see at LFF 2016 if you like... Scandinavian films

Sarah Lutton recommends three hot tickets at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut, and a wild card.

Sarah Lutton
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The new film from an established director…

I Called Him Morgan

I Called Him Morgan (2016)

I Called Him Morgan (2016)

What’s it about?

The story of Lee Morgan, whose extraordinary talent saw him hailed as the most significant trumpeter of his generation. Morgan played alongside many jazz greats, including Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey, and enjoyed success from an early age. His path to a bright future was stalled by heroin addiction, which he battled heroically with the support of his partner, Helen Morgan. His star was in the ascendant again until he tragically died in 1972 at the age of 33, the victim of a crime of passion.

Who made it?

This is the second feature documentary from Swedish director, writer, producer and editor Kasper Collin. Collin’s debut feature was the acclaimed My Name Is Albert Ayler (2006), which was also about another exceptional African-American musician whose life and creativity were sadly cut short.

Collin is supported by a top-notch crew, including award-winning cinematographer Bradford Young, who has collaborated with a range of directors including Ava DuVernay on Selma and Middle of Nowhere, David Lowery on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Dee Rees on Pariah. Young also serves as DoP on Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which screens at this year’s LFF.

What’s special about it?

I Called Him Morgan is a tantalising mix of talking-head testimony, true-crime drama, amazing archival footage and phenomenal music. It’s an involving and moving film, and the music is an absolute joy to listen to (I came to it as someone who doesn’t usually listen to jazz).

The story is told with great integrity, offering a detailed account of Morgan’s music and the contemporary jazz scene, as well as building a picture of Lee and Helen Morgan’s life together and the harsh backgrounds they both struggled to escape from. The film touches on an significant moment in black American jazz history and its intersection with the civil rights movement. It’s a real achievement to draw all of these elements together in such an emotionally powerful and resonant piece.

The breakthrough…

The Giant

The Giant (2016)

The Giant (2016)

What’s it about?

Thirty-year-old Rikard faces many challenges. He is severely deformed, on the autistic spectrum and, most devastatingly, separated from his beloved mother. His life is, however, one filled with small joys. He lives amid a supportive community, and shares a passion for the sport of pétanque with his loyal friend and carer Roland. From time to time he escapes from reality into a fantasy world where he is a 50-metre-tall giant, living in peace and united by songs and music with his treasured mother.

Who made it?

The Giant is the first feature film from Swedish director, writer and editor Johannes Nyholm, whose prize-winning short film Las Palmas, starring his one-year-old daughter (affectionately known as the ‘drunk baby film’), became a viral sensation. The cast includes veteran TV and film actor Johan Kylén (Millennium: The Girl Who Played with Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), whose subtle, humane and incredibly natural performance as Rikard’s friend and carer Roland is close to heartbreaking.

What’s special about it?

Where to start with The Giant? This is one of the most inventive and distinctive films I have seen in recent years, and is a strong contender in the First Feature Competition. The film is wildly imaginative, achieving an almost mythic quality and yet is intimate and deeply personal.

Johannes Nyholm shows great creativity in the interplay he achieves between human drama, special effects and some truly beautiful CGI fantasy sequences. Relative newcomer Christian Andrén is also a revelation – with his features almost masked by prosthetics, he brings a stinging dignity, wistful passion and wry humour to the character of Rikard. The power of the film is also due in no small part to the unique soundscape created by Björn Olsson. It has elements of a mythic Morricone-esque western score, punctuated by folky songs and Rikard’s heartbreaking birdsong-like calls to his mother. An unpredictable, sweet and uniquely moving film.

The wild card…

Magnus

Magnus (2016)

Magnus (2016)

What’s it about?

This meticulous and unique documentary explores the mind and path to glory of the ‘Mozart of chess’, the current world champion, young Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen’s credentials are outstanding. In 2010, at the age of 19, he became the youngest player to be ranked as number one. He became world chess champion in November 2013, just days before his 23rd birthday. He defended the title in 2014 and will defend it again in November 2016.

Who made it?

After training as a journalist then making a couple of short documentaries, Magnus is director Benjamin Ree’s first feature-length documentary. He spent several years following and filming Magnus Carlsen and his family as Magnus trained and prepared for matches. Ree was also given access to the Carlsen family’s extensive home-movie archive, which forms an essential part of this film.

What’s special about it?

Magnus conveys a powerful sense of Carlsen’s passion and style, the thrill of the game, and the goddamn hard work needed to become a grandmaster. This is a film for everyone, not just chess aficionados, with a broad appeal to teenagers and adults alike. Although not shying away from the technicalities of chess (we see plenty of nerve-wracking match footage and some very effective animated visualisations of Carlsen’s game plans), this is very much a film about natural talent, tenacity, and the love and support of a family. The film is by turns tense, funny, revelatory and inspiring, and will be an interesting comparative piece to Queen of Katwe, Mira Nair’s biographical feature of Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi, which is also screening in this year’s LFF. 

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