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Scandinavian Cinema Makes Presence Felt at Cannes (Cannes)

Kirsten Dunst
"Melancholia"

For the first time ever, the Competition section includes works from three Nordic directors -- Lars von Trier, Aki Kaurismaki and Nicholas Winding Refn.

France’s premiere festival has usually given a cold shoulder to Scandinavian cinema – which has traditionally been more welcome in Toronto or Berlin – but this year, Nordic films are everywhere. Cannes Competition line-up includes three Nordic directors  – a first. Lars von Trier [Melancholia] and Aki Kaurismaki [Le Havre] - the only two Nordic helmers regularly represented on the Croisette – are joined this year by Drive from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Interestingly, none of the films are in a Scandinavian tongue. Melancholia and Drive are English-language, La Havre French.

But you’ll hear plenty of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian being spoken in Cannes’ sidebars, not to mention in the screening rooms of the Marche du Film. Oslo, August 31, the Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut Reprise, premieres in Un Certain RegardOut of Bounds from Danish first-timer Frederikke Aspockbows in a Cannes Special Screening. Directors’ Fortnight will unveil Volcano from Iceland’s Runar Runarsson as well as Ruben Ostlund’s Play, the latter marking the first time in 16 years a Swedish feature has premiered in the Cannes sidebar.

In the market, thanks to the cross-over success of the Millennium films and Swedish thriller Easy Money, Scandinavian titles are as red hot as their stories are cold blooded.

 

Post-Millennium, everyone is hunting for the next big Nordic crime franchise. Working Title recently snapped up rights to The Snowman from Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, one in the writer’s best-selling series featuring Henry Hole, described as an anti-authority, anti-sobriety Oslo detective. Kenneth Branagh, fresh off directing Melancholia’s Stellan Skarsgard in Thor, is believed to be in talks to adapt the novel Italian Shoes from the godfather of Swedish crime fictionHenning Mankell.

 

And all along the Croisette, sellers are stacking their slates with stories of dour detectives and dark Swedish nights. Danish sales giant TrustNordisk, which has Melancholia,Volcano and Out of Bounds in the festival, is flying in Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and star Aksel Hennie, along with author Nesbo to promote Headhunters. The thriller is still in post but has already pre-sold to Magnolia for the U.S. Trust is also screening a mood-promo for the upcoming adaptation of Swedish best-selling crime series The Fjallbacka Murders and will be parachuting in author Camilla Lackberg to woo buyers. 

 

“Nowadays all you have to say is Swedish and thriller to catch buyers’ attention,” says Miira Paasilinnahead of Scandi sales outfit The Yellow Affair, which has Swedish kidnapping drama Gone on its Cannes slate. “I think there were always good thrillers coming out of Scandinavia, but before Millennium, distributors didn’t notice it. Now we’re on the map. Buyers want to know about the films in advance, they are pushing for information.” 

 

U.S. agents in Cannes will also be scanning for information on the latest Scandi talent that could go big post-Festival.

 

The Nordic territories have become a factory of fresh faces for the Hollywood machine. Millennium stars Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvisthave translated their performances into roles in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol respectively. Alicia Vikander, who last year won Sweden’s version of the Oscars, beating out Rapace, will next be appearing alongside Jeff Bridges in Sergey Bodrov’s fantasy epic The Seventh Son. Joel Kinnamen of Easy Moneyfame has roles in two U.S. adaptations of Scandi originals: AMC’s The Killing, adapted from the Danish series, and David Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

 

“The movie industry in the States is enormous but news travels fast,” says Swedish agent Annika Kilden, who represents Kinnamen. “Joel did a self-taped audition for an (American) project a couple of years ago. We sent it to the casting director and within 48 hours almost every single agency/management company called us and wanted to represent Joel.”

 

Behind-the-lens talent out of Scandinavia has also caught Hollywood’s eye: see Easy Money helmer Daniel Espinosa directing Denzel Washington in Safe House; Tomas Alfredson segueing from Swedish vampire tale Let The Right One In to Working Title's Cold War thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or Norway’s Tommy Wirkola whose follow up to his Nazi zombie debut Dead Snow is directing Hansel and Gretel, Witch Huntersfor Paramount Pictures.

 

But as hungry as L.A. is for new Nordic names, that hasn’t translated into instant sales for Scandinavian features, even ones featuring regional A-listers.

 

“There only two names who can sell a Scandinavian film – Mads Mikkelsen and Stellan Skarsgard,” says Susan Wendt, head of sales of TrustNordisk. “You don’t sell the names. You have to sell the story.”

 

Trust is hoping the combination of the two – names and story – will help pre-sell A Royal Affair, an 18th century period epic starring Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikanderfrom The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel about a fatal affair between the Danish queen and her German physician.

 

“Whatever the current craze for Scandinavian books and actors, a Scandinavian film is still a foreign language film and those still face difficulty with traditional distribution,” agrees Tine Kint, managing director of sales outfit LevelK, whose Cannes line-up includes A Funny Manstarring Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Angels and Demons), a biopic of famed Danish comedian Dirch Passer. But Paasilinna of Yellow Affair believes the spotlight on Nordic thrillers has had a “positive effect on the whole of Scandinavian cinema” even difficult to package art house. She cites She Monkeys from Swedish director Lisa Aschan, which took the top prize at Tribeca last month and has already sold to 10 countries including France and the U.K. Similarly, Trust sold Norwegian comedy

 

Happy, Happy, a Sundance darling, to Magnolia in Berlin, even though Anne Sewitsky's directorial debut didn’t feature either a Swedish goth hacker or a disgruntled Oslo detective.

“Booms come and go, some territories are hot for a while and then the attention moves elsewhere,” says Paasilinna. “But what these crime thrillers show is that there is really high production quality coming out of Scandinavia. That makes some buyers think about looking at a Swedish drama or a Finnish comedy when maybe they wouldn't have before. And half the battle is just getting the buyers to watch your film.”

 

At Cannes this year, the world will be watching – and buying - Scandinavian movies. But it will be the performance of Nordic titles at the festival and, crucially, at the box office, that will ultimately determine how long this boom will last.