The first film festival of the calendar year for Angelinos is not Sundance, but rather the Scandinavian Film Festival, staged over two weekends at the beginning of January at the Writers Guild Theatre on Doheny. I recently attended the opening day of the 13th SFF. Founded in 2000 by the operatic baritone James Koenig, formerly of the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, now an Angelino and for 13 years the passionate director of the Scandinavian Film Festival.
Over the first 12 iterations, Koenig has brought 181 feature films, 16 documentaries and 47 shorts from Nordic Europe to L.A., films that otherwise would have never seen the light of an L.A. projector. Last year, audiences were treated to the complete Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, i.e. the Swedish version. Let me emphasize, the Scandinavian Film Festival still relies mostly on volunteerism, including that of its hard-working director.
On Saturday afternoon, I saw Happy, Happy (2010), the Norwegian submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film. It unfortunately didn’t make the final shortlist announced yesterday, nor did the Swedish entry, Beyond (2010), but Denmark’s submission, Superclásico (2011), a real comedy, did land one of the coveted nine spots remaining from a field of 63 entries. In any case, all three entries were shown at the Scandinavian Film Festival this year before the Academy made up its mind, allowing attendees to judge for themselves.
Happy, Happy was a comedy Nordic style, which means it had some fecal humor and was depressing, but the neighbors do have a good time running naked and having sex in the snow, preferably with each others' wives. No, seriously, everyone ends up hurting everyone else, maybe because it is so dark all winter long and there is so much snow. The “happy end" has one couple splitting up, because the husband turns out to be gay, but maintaining adjacent homes so the “family” can stay intact.
Beyond was not a comedy, but rather an emotionally powerful and, yes, depressing film about child abuse and alcoholism. The film features an incredible performance by Noomi Rapace, who plays a woman who must confront her repressed childhood with two alcoholic parents when her mother dies. Rapace appeared in the Swedish original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its sequels where she gave an amazingly intense portrait as Lisbeth Salander, a young woman also scared by physical and mental abuse. The performances of Beyond's two child actors, who appear in the flashbacks as brother and sister, are also remarkable for their vulnerability and confusion with credit going to Pernilla August, who directed. The director, who is also a well-known actress in Sweden and the ex-wife of director Bille August, was on hand at the screening and afterwards for a Q&A.
I would have liked to have seen many more of the films at the Scandinavian Film Festival, but duty called elsewhere. Jim Koenig should be congratulated for once again providing the local film community with the opportunity to see what our Nordic neighbors are doing.