Noomi Rapace, Aki Kaurismaki Lead Nordic Oscar Hopefuls

10:14 AM PST 09/29/2011 by Scott Roxborough
Cannes Film Festival
"Le Havre"

“Beyond,” “Le Havre” and Sundance winner “Happy, Happy” from Norway are among the contenders for 2012.

BERLIN – After In A Better World from Denmark’s Susanne Bier won the best foreign language film Oscar this year, Europe’s Nordic territories are looking to make it two in a row with their crop of 2012 Academy Award hopefuls. The five countries in the region have picked three debut features and two by established veterans as their cinematic reps for next year’s Oscar race.

Early handicapping is giving the edge to Finland’s hopeful: Aki Kaurismaki’s fanciful take on illegal immigration in Le Havre. The feature, shot in French, has been generating rave reviews since its Cannes debut. A giant of the international art house scene and an inspiration to U.S. directors such as Jim Jarmusch, Kaurismaki has been nominated for an Oscar once before – for The Man Without a Past  in 2002 but he pulled out of the ceremony to protest the start of the U.S. war with Iraq. He has accepted his candidacy this year, however and will likely make the trip to L.A. if nominated.

The other old hand among Scandinavia’s Oscar contenders is Ole Christian Madsen, whose  Superclasico will represent Denmark. The comedy of marital discord has been a local box office hit.

But the three first-timers among the Nordic entries all have dark horse potential for the foreign language race.

Sweden’s Beyond, the debut of actress-turned-director Pernilla August, stars Scandinavia’s "It" girl Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as a woman who confronts her alcoholic mother. It won three Guldbagge honors this year, Sweden’s equivalent of the Oscars, including best director.

The black comedy Happy, Happy from Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky won the World Cinema Grand Jury prize in Sundance and has sold out worldwide, with Mangolia Pictures bowing the film in the U.S. Academy voters could be charmed by Happy, Happy star Agnes Kittelsen who gives a standout performance as a bored, but always upbeat Norwegian housewife whose life gets more exciting when new neighbors move in next door.

Finally, Iceland is pushing Volcano, the first feature length effort from director Runar Runarsson. The story of an elderly man who tries to reconnect to his estranged children, the heat around Volcano has been slowly rising since its well-received bows in Cannes and Toronto. Director Runarsson might also be familiar to some Oscar voters, having received an Academy Award nomination for his short film The Last Farm in 2006.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce its five 2012 nominations on Jan. 24; the awards ceremony takes place on Feb. 26.

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