Fans of Nordic cinema can have their yearly dose of film at the Noordelijk Film Festival in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. The cultural and cinematic highlight of the Northern provinces of the Netherlands had its 38th edition this year. The main focus traditionally lies on films from and linked to the Nordic countries. The festival also gives a chance to aspiring local filmmakers to send in their creations in the ‘Noorderkroon’ competition.
This year’s opening film Thelma, directed by Joachim Trier, turned out to be a great choice, as it’s one of the festival’s best films. The titular character is raised in a conservative Christian household and is ‘released’ by her protective parents to study in the city. She starts to suffer from seizures that look a lot like epilepsy, but turn out to be something else. In the meantime she falls in love with a girl, something she is fighting through prayer as a devout Christian, but can she resist? And what is really going on with her condition? Thelma can be characterized as a mix between Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013), Carrie (1976) and some of the more recent Darren Aronofsky films. The result is a very compelling and powerful film about repressed sexual feelings and conservative (Christian) values.
For a number of years, Iceland has been very well represented at the festival with films like Of Horses and Men (2013) and Rams (2015). This year also presented some noteworthy films from this country. First of all, there was the impressive and, for Dutch viewers, painful documentary Inside a Volcano: the Rise of Icelandic Football (2017). We are shown how the Icelandic football squad qualified for the Euro 2016 tournament. The first qualification ever for a final tournament for this nation. The documentary gives us a ‘behind-the-scenes’ where we see how spirited and close-knit this team is and how they are willing to fight for each other.
The Swan (2017) shows us a beautiful Iceland through the eyes of a 9-year old girl who is sent to the countryside after she is caught shoplifting. She befriends an older farmhand who likes to write poetry and quotes Andrei Tarkovsky. The girl learns about life, death, and love as it befits a proper coming-of-age drama. Debuting director Asa Hjorleifsdottir demonstrates a great eye for detail and really advertises her country with this beautiful picture. Definitely one of the better films of the festival.
Audiences were divided by Iceland’s official contribution to next year’s Academy Awards: Under the Tree (2017). A dark ‘dramedy’ with an excellent cast about neighbours who have a small dispute about a tree. Things escalate fast, especially because one of the wives, Inga, is quite harsh and bitter towards her neighbours, a couple where the wife is much younger and fitter. When Inga’s cat disappears she plots a staggering and morbid revenge and things quickly become pretty nasty. Fun for some, gruesome for others as was clearly noticeable in the audience. A controversial film, loved by some, hated by others.
For those who were really looking for an ‘easier’ laugh, there were plenty of choices. Tordenskjold & Kold (2017), a Danish-Swedish-Norwegian co-production is a very entertaining, speculative biopic about Peter Wessel Tordenskjold, a naval officer in the Norwegian Navy at the start of the 18th century. He is known for his many wins in battle and has gained a status that can be compared to a modern rock star. And this is exactly how this film presents him, told through the eyes of his valet and friend Kold. Tordenskjold tours around the country telling many about his victory at the Battle of Dylekinen. His status makes him sleep with many women, causing all kinds of hilarious problems. Like some modern-day rock stars, he can’t seem to get any satisfaction. Kold summarizes it well by stating that Tordenskjold is more in danger when he is not in battle than when he is.
Welcome to Norway (2016) is another title that will instigate some laughter. A slightly racist Norwegian decides to open a home for refugees and thinks he can easily make money out of it. Obviously, things turn out to be more complex than he anticipated when he has to deal with all the different cultures, rules he has to comply with and the inevitable technical issues. Predictable and cliched at times but just as funny and heartfelt.
All in all the Nordic focus of the festival has a lot to offer. Almost all genres of cinema can be seen, next to a lot of short films and films from local directors. This year’s edition also showed some classics like Häxan (1922) with live music. More mainstream titles like Du Forsvinder, Borg vs McEnroe and this years Palme d’Or winner The Square were shown as well. A diverse and accessible festival that serves a broad audience. Next year’s edition promises to be extra special when Leeuwarden is the European Capital of Culture for the year 2018.