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Watch these seven films, and you can take part in an intelligent conversation about ‘Danish film’
He is a film editor, and he is an associate professor in film at the University of Copenhagen. He is Peter Schepelern, and he now offers University Post readers his recommendations for seven Danish-language films. They each, at the same time, represent a significant part of Danish cultural heritage
“The Danish film scene is doing well these years”, explains Peter Schepelern to the University Post.
In Denmark, ticket sales for Danish-language films are booming, while Danish directors like Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives), Susanne Bier (In a Better World), and actors like Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Casino Royal, as well as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) generally make significant impressions with their work at film festivals and in big international productions.
Schepelern finds it remarkable that Danish-produced films, in which Danish is actually the spoken language, keep popping up around the globe.
“Denmark has a conspicuously prominent status, when it comes to participation in international film festivals and winning prizes. You can almost always find Danish-language films in various international competitions despite the fact that it is a small country, and that only approximately 20 Danish-language films are produced every year,” he says.
So let’s get on with it. Here is the chance to get a closer look at the Danish-language films, so you yourself can flash some film trivia. The trailers below give you a first glance, the links are to where you can purchase the films.
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Carl Theodor Dreyer is considered the most prominent director in the history of Danish cinema alongside Lars von Trier. He is probably the only Danish director whose name can be found in any reference book on film history around the world. His classic film The Word is based on a play by Danish author Kaj Munk and takes place in an austere, religious setting in Jutland, revolving around the conflict between faith and doubt. “Except the French-produced The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is one of the great works in the history of film art, the Danish-language The Word is arguably Dreyer’s most timeless production,” describes Schepelern.
Director: Henning Carlsen
Although Hunger is directed by the Danish Henning Carlsen, the film is more of a result of a Scandinavian co-production than a Danish film as such. It is based on Knut Hamsun’s famous modernist novel of the same name, following the restless roaming of a starving young writer in Kristiania (Oslo) in 1890. The film seeks to reflect Hamsun’s thematic dealings with fragmentation and perplexity. According to Schepelern, “Carlsen succeeds in making the film modern art, excluding a regular plot in favour of a subjective depiction of a human mind in despair.” Hunger gained international attention and American author, Paul Auster, has written a comprehensive essay called ‘The Art of Hunger’ inspired by the novel and the film.
Director: Bille August
Pelle the Conqueror is yet another Danish big-screen adaption of a canonical literary work, Martin Andersen Nexø’s novel of the same name. It takes place in a Danish rural milieu in the 19th century, where Pelle and his Swedish father, played by Max von Sydow, are in dire straits and treated like slaves. The film might sound cheerless, but according to Scheplern, it also displays warmth and optimism: “Pelle the Conquerer is a humanistic depiction of a young boy’s ideological escape from poverty and discrimination,” he says. Pelle the Conquerer both won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Golden Palm prize at the Cannes film festival. Also, it became a stepping stone to an international career for director Bille August.
Director: Lars von Trier
Schepelern describes Lars von Trier’s The Idiots as a “form of anti-Hollywood initiative, which is full-blown anarchistic and a solid slap-in-the-face to the Danish middle-class”. The film is about a group of young people, who play around with their identities and try to seek out their own inner ‘idiots’. Like many other von Trier films, The Idiots kicked up controversy. Not least because of its explicit sexual content, including group sex and a near-pornography penetration scene. Being part of the avant-garde Danish Dogma-movement from the 90’s, the film adheres to a very basic technique. It was made with a hand-held camera and followed a manifesto rule, which favoured narrative in spite of special effects. “The Idiots is a bold masterpiece. It follows a set rules, while at the same time breaking all the rules”, says Schepelern.
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
King’s Game is made by one of Denmark’s most talented young directors, Nikolaj Arcel. In Denmark, Arcel is known for painting with broad, filmic strokes. In his relatively short career, he has managed to both make a romantic comedy and a large-scale adventure flick, while last year he was nominated for an Academy Award for his historical drama, A Royal Affair. King’s Game, on the other hand, is a “well-crafted political thriller about everything, which is ‘rotten in the state of Denmark’. A film which might as well have been created in Hollywood”, analyses Schepelern.
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Denmark has a tradition for quite naïve and cheerful melodramas, which are more or less harmless. Klown from 2010, however, showed a much more daring approach to comedy. Based on the immensely popular Danish TV sitcom Klovn and starring the same lead actors, Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam, the film became the most watched Danish film in ten years. Christensen and Hvam is probably the most popular and productive comedic duo in Denmark in recent years, and in Klown they play self-satiric versions of themselves as two friends, who embark on a wild trip through the Danish countryside. This trip involves a broad variety of awkward moments and scenes, where the viewer is left in a mild state of a mixture between amazement and uneasiness. Both sitcom and film are very inspired by the American hit show Curb Your Enthusiasm, which also wallows in uncomfortable situations. Currently there is talk of an up-coming US version of the film.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Together with Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg launched a ‘golden age’ for Danish cinema in the 90’s. He had an international breakthrough with his Dogma-drama, The Celebration, from 1998 about a family gathering, where a father is revealed as having sexually abused his children. The film shocked the entire film industry, but Vinterberg had a hard time following up on his success, directing several problematic and poorly received films the ensuing years. However, according to Schepelern, last year’s The Hunt marked a strong comeback for the Danish director. “The Hunt plays out as a reversal of the themes of The Celebration. But while The Celebration is about a guilty man who has got away with his crimes, The Hunt portrays an innocent man who is victimized for something he has not done.” The film has been very well received worldwide and Mads Mikkelsen won the Golden Palm award for his role.
So this was it. Everything you need to impress your friends at parties!
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