Three to see at LFF if you like... Nordic films

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

Sarah Lutton

The new film from an established director…

That Time of Year (Den tid på året)

That Time of Year (2018)

What’s it about?

Katrine (Paprika Steen) is hosting her annual Christmas gathering. She and her husband are soon to welcome a collection of pompous, demanding, troubled, miserly, hormonal and mischief-making guests into their home.

Yes, you guessed correctly, the family are coming to visit!

And, as it’s the time of good cheer, there’s no better occasion for long-simmering resentments and squabbles to resurface, with comic and possibly devastating results.

Who made it?

This is Nordic superstar actor Paprika Steen’s third stint in the director’s chair, coming more than 10 years after her last directorial turn with With Your Permission (LFF 2007). That Time of Year is a confident and mature return, assembling a knockout cast, many of whom Steen’s worked with before. These include The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl, playing very much against type by showing off her comic chops.

What’s special about it?

Steen has a keen eye for the nuances of dialogue and character. She gives plenty of space for individual characters and their quirks to emerge, but also creates a strong sense of the chaos of personalities that we so often experience at family gatherings.

The script is beautifully written by playwright Jakob Weis, with episodes of high comedy sensitively balanced with moments of touching intimacy. What’s more, there’s a host of recognisable faces from popular Nordic TV shows.

But don’t expect any Nordic noir chilliness here – That Time of Year is a simmering hot punch bowl of stress and giggles. Heart-warming, but with a powerful kick.

See this if you like…

A Christmas Tale/Un conte de Nöel (2008, dir. Arnaud Desplechin); Festen/The Celebration (1998, dir. Thomas Vinterberg); National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, dir. Jeremiah Chechik)

The breakthrough…

Sticks and Stones (Brakland)

Watch the trailer for Sticks and Stones

What’s it about?

Simon, a teenager from metropolitan Copenhagen, moves with his family to a provincial area in southern Denmark. He’s a lonely outsider until he buddies up with classmate Bjarke, the local 15-year-old alpha male. The pair challenge each other in a series of increasingly transgressive acts, which begin to pick away at the veneer of calm that surrounds them. 

Who made it?

Sticks and Stones is directed by Martin Skovbjerg, who brings a wealth of experience from TV, music video and short films to this, his debut feature. The film is made by one of Denmark’s most exciting and outward-looking production companies, Snowglobe Films, whose international co-productions include festival hits Wajib and Thelma (both LFF 2017), and The Untamed (LFF 2016). The prolific company also have their productions Birds of Passage, Petra and Queen of Fear screening in this year’s LFF.

The script is based on an original story by UK-born, Denmark-based writer, Christian Gamst Miller-Harris. 

What’s special about it?

This is an incredibly brave and accomplished debut. It’s immediate, claustrophobic and ominous, but also a film that involves you, raises questions and draws you in.

Sticks and Stones is crafted with precision: exceptional sound design and editing; David Gallego’s exquisite cinematography and Skovbjerg’s clear direction all work to build a creeping sense of unease.

Thematically, Skovbjerg and writer Christian Gamst Miller-Harris are prepared to go to some uncomfortable places, creating a tense but humane drama that focuses on the personal cost of destructive masculinity. We’re drawn into the lives of the protagonists, and although some of the things we see them do may be unnerving, we begin to understand and, perhaps more importantly, to care.

See this if you like…

Funny Games (1997 and 2007, dir. Michael Haneke); The Ape (2009, dir. Jesper Ganslandt); La Vie de Jésus/The Life of Jesus (1997, dir. Bruno Dumont).

The wild card…

The Quake (Skjelvet)

The Quake (2018)

What’s it about?

Once a hero for predicting a devastating tsunami, Norwegian geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) has suffered a breakdown and now lives an isolated life estranged from his family.

But a message from a former colleague about unusual seismic activity in the Oslo area (where his wife and children now live) sounds alarm bells in his once sharp mind. Might these be warning signs that historic fault-lines are on the move and that a city-engulfing earthquake is imminent?

Who made it?

The Quake is a follow-up to the spectacular Norwegian disaster movie The Wave, which thrilled LFF audiences in 2015. Many of the same creative team are reunited, including Kristoffer Joner, who returns to the role of hero-geologist Kristian Eikjord after reaching wider exposure this year with a turn in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

Taking over in the director’s chair is John Andreas Andersen, previously an accomplished cinematographer on films such as Headhunters and Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith. 

What’s special about it?

In most disaster movies, nuance and character development are sacrificed for thrills and big bangs. Not so with The Quake. It’s a rare beast: a tender and emotionally intelligent genre movie in which the truly jaw-dropping, wham-bang set pieces are all the more powerful because we’re so invested in the characters.

But when they come, those special effects are mighty impressive. Oslo has never looked so wonderful or so vulnerable. They make The Quake a film that needs to be seen on the big screen. That’s where our screening at BFI IMAX comes in…

See this if you like…

The Wave (2015, dir. Roar Uthaug); Earthquake (1974, dir. Mark Robson).

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