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Excellent feature animation
BEYOND BEYOND I was just about to fall off the chair the other day when I watched a DVD. It was a feature animated film from 2014 directed by a Dane, Esben Toft Jacobsen, but the production team seemed to be Swedish. I did not think the level of ambition in Denmark today held out for more than the usual run of the mill stories and production design, but I was wrong, and luckily so. It was a fairy tale in which a child, this time a rabbit, cannot bear the loss of his mother and thus embarks on a journey on ship to bring her back. The love story from Orpheus and Eurydice for children. There is a whole lot of help and adversity from all sorts of mysterious creatures he meets on his way, and it is exceedingly captivating to follow with plenty of pace all along. I sat and enjoyed the obvious references to Miyazaki, with little creatures that run in packs over the ground. This time they are not black but blue-green. The angel is in this version a scaly dragon- like creature, and Sct. Peter is a touching bureaucratic frog-like guy. Of the almighty godlike chaos force we only get to see the tentacles, but it is reminiscent of squid arms and enclose in the climax our poor friend's vessel. The character design is innovative and appealing. It is nice to see that you do not have to follow the standard tradition of design within CGI animation, which has become almost mandatory in the business. A story of life and death can be very strong, and it is in this case. I also got to think about the Irish film director Tomm Moore, who received an Oscar nomination for 'Song of the Sea' last year. Esben Toft Jacobsen had deserved a nomination as well.
A reference to 'One flew over the Coocoo's Nest' in its own right
I had the great pleasure of experiencing this new Danish comedy, the motivation strengthened by the fact that I am just now writing a book that has the confrontation between medical treatment and alternative treatment as a side issue. I was also pleased about the recently completed TV series, Alternative treatment - does it work?
My daughter wanted to watch Cuckoo's Nest the other day, so it was a review with one of cinema's classics. Now, Milos Forman has not directed The Funny Farm, which must be a probably English title and Paprika Steen does not have a role including a Jack Nicholson's looming rebellion, but less will do.
What also amused me was the references to Cuckoo's Nest. We do not have a huge Indian, but a large Zlatko Buric in partnership with a resigned Greenlander makes good replacement, and Zlatko also gives Paprika a ride on his shoulders. One of the inmates also demonstrate his opposition to the treatment by showing us the pills on his tongue followed by a big smile. The outing emulated here with a picnic to a woodland park. Eventually we even have a heavy object hurled through a window in the institution.
The screenwriter must have looked in a catalog of alternative therapies, for more than twenty of these mentioned or shown from the respected treatments as reflexology and cranial sacral massage to the more funny ones with necromancers spirit traps and seven stars objects.
We do not entirely know why poor Paprika placed in a mental hospital, but when she during the first meeting with the doctor insists that she is not taking any medication, the confrontation course is obviously established.
We are not surprised that she wins some patients and staff over to her alternative side during the process, and with the simple comedy approach we do not expect it to get to be anything more, but it does so anyway. We actually get a dramatic conclusion where the ideologies collide with serious consequences and thank you for that. With the reference to the Cuckoo's Nest, you are also obliged to that kind of ambition.
I am sorry that IMDb has been so cautious in its rating, but now only 131 persons have given their opinion. For me it was in any case one of the best Danish comedies I have seen for years.
Ida - a masterpiece
During Easter I watched this important film with my youngest daughter. My eldest daughter Ida had already seen it in the cinema. She wondered why we would spend the sunny afternoon watching this gripping but sombre movie. However, this was the time Maria had over for this kind of activity, and as a father you welcome these moments, when they suddenly show up.
Ida was nominated to an Oscar this year, and I salute the committee for their responsible choice of raising attention to this well deserved gem of a film so unlike any other film I have seen for years.
The film is about a Polish nun to be, who from the nunnery prioress is suggested to visit her aunt before taking the final decision of becoming a nun. So she does that.
I had thought it to be a film about spirituality and religion, but it was so much more. As it were, it developed into a responsible view on the fate of Jews in Poland.
An old friend of mine left Poland together with his family around 1970 when a harassment on Jews drove them out of Poland. They were discouraged from having a university study and education in general as well as many other things.
This Easter I was invited to an Easter lunch where a Jewish couple were present. I sat next to the man. At the age of 25 in 1970 he left Poland for the same reasons as my friend and seven years later he and his wife were able to get at Danish citizenship. We talked about a lot problems concerning minorities.
Ida is supposed to take place around 1960 I guess. It is made as films were still mostly made back then in black and white and the old film formate. It could have been a Resnais film with its deeply controlled minimalistic layout and naked storytelling. The characters are often pushed down in the lower part in the frame leaving the upper part almost empty, thereby almost symbolizing people being suppressed by the mere way they are allowed to be shown within the frame.
Ida is actually a Jew, but not looking Jewish she managed to escape killing when the rest of her family was murdered by poles during the war and maybe shortly after. The murderers took over the family farm, and they still hold it, when Ida and her aunt come back to the old family hometown.
The aunt has a past as a public prosecutor, and the Polish family feel urged to propose a deal. In exchange with Ida not pressing charges they will reveal where they buried the Jewish farm owner family after the killing.
I have already revealed too much. But the point of this production is a basically a Polish initiative trying to come to terms with the collective past and all the criminal and tragic things taking place during the war and later under the cover of communist oppression.
The genuine value of this stylistically brilliant movie is the willingness for the current society to accept and give witness to the atrocities continuing in Poland well after the conclusion of the second world war.
Don't miss out on this film, if you get the opportunity watch this. It is a polished gem reflecting on human violation and misery. Understandably it has divided the public. Some people fail to catch the actual meaning of this masterpiece.
Some years ago a danish filmmaker made an acclaimed movie about the harsh reality in the agricultural industry. Now a similar venture has been produced about equally troublesome conditions within todays fishing business. The actors are not well known, but that only contributes to the believability of the project. In truth there has not been made many attempts to cover that subject matter, and the structure of the drama could be valid for most fishing industry along the shores of Europe, where bigger boats are now needed to make fishing profitable. There is a symbolic meaning to the title of the film 'Ocean Sunfish' where a clumsy big fish is swimming lonely around in the local fish tank exposition. The main character feels the same way as a creature not really fitting in with the current development of his branch. To keep from bankruptcy he indulges in some illegal activity which eventually backfires. The film is a valid and honest tribute to the living conditions in the provinces, where the changes make it difficult to continue to live and keep up the old traditions.
Op og ned langs kysten (1950)
Musical comedy with seldom footage
Stig Lommer is not regarded a prolific film director, but he was a cabaret manager of astonishing caliber during the heyday of musical song and dance theatrical shows in the Forties and the Fifties and even longer than that. This film's claim to fame is that it has preserved some crazy footage of Svend Asmussen and his Danish Sextet around 1950. The barely existing excuse for an intrigue is the trouble between two couples on a seaside resort, where the bandmaster Asmussen consoles a neglected wife. To divert attention when the husband finds out, he fakes a suicide pretending to be in love with someone else. However the woman believes that to be true, so Asmussen is in bigger trouble than before, of course in a non committed almost slapstick fashion in this lightly performed musical dish. The funny performances of Asmussen also in real life existing band are hilarious, hitting the peak with a spoof on a national football game with the Danish archenemy Sweden. On top we have the whole string of Lommer's chorus girls in swimsuits running teasingly along the beach.
Sol over Danmark (1936)
This film is the first Danish road movie. In the thirties it was unusual to take a film camera out of the studio to make your film, but this is the case here,and the documentary shots are exceptional in clarity and contrast, much more than you expect from outdoors footage. Furthermore we move through the Danish province, which was seldom in Danish films. I have a nostalgia towards this. My childhood was in the fifties, but actually not much happened to geographical sites in those twenty years. The director comes from a career within silent movies, and dialog is not his strong point, but there is a general good humor and many happy smiling faces in this film, where the moral is 'Just take it easy, problems will solve themselves giving the time to act'. This cheerfulness and lightheartedness makes you think, for just south of the border Hitler used the same romantic nationalism for quite a different purpose. His 'kraft durch Freude' police eventually evolved into a strictly unhappy situation with violence and disaster. So watching this cheerful outdoors movie from 1936 kind of makes you think. It was the last chance to catch a happy folklore mood.
En pige uden lige (1943)
War time needs
When the world was falling apart during the war the moving going audience craved something basic they could relate to, and here a danish version of a successful Swedish play and film came in handy. It was executed very well by Jon Iversen with a cast perfect to portray the colorful characters. Ellen Gottchalch had a field day with the energetic performance to revive the lives of three dusty bachelor brothers living in a run down old farm. There is a side story of a girl not daring to accept the charming sailor returning to the island because she is too pleasing to a domineering mother with a moralistic husband making life difficult to young people. Taking her own bad decisions into account Gottschalch helps that daughter to take the proper decision and accept the handsome but still trustworthy sailor played by all time film lover of that time, Poul Reichhardt. That actor 24 years later played the part of one of the brothers in yet another version of the all time favorite of an efficient woman taking the running of a house into her hand. All in all a noteworthy film
24 timer (1951)
Brief Encounter Danish style
The Saga Film Studio showed more ambition than usual producing this closely knitted drama of a woman, well played by Astrid Villaume, torn between the secure life with her husband, the attorney Ebbe Rode, and the exuberant pianist Mogens Wieth, whom she meets by chance on a railway trip back to her home. She is infatuated by the suave artist and spends the night with him. However this is 1951, so when we see her waking up in the morning and sneaking out, we also see the artist still sleeping on the couch in the adjoining room. This drama reflects the old conflict of women having to choose between the security of being taken care of and an exciting life with a creative person. In those days women seldom had a career of their own. This drama is presented in a polite and well mannered way, almost too low key taking the subject matter into account. Still, the confrontation between the leading male actors being the best from their generation is well worth experiencing, even today. Hats off to a fine film presented in perfect cast and with beautiful performances.
Man elsker kun en gang (1945)
Well Executed Musical
The influence from American musicals is obvious, and presented in 1945 everything inspired from that culture had some extra appeal. However budgets never rose to American levels, so the dance scenes are cramped into a small studio area. The singing leads are perfect, and actually you never saw Else-Marie and Hans Kurt singing together that often on the silver screen. Their performances are brilliant, and the scores are quite excellent as well. The melodies might be forgettable, but they present the spark of the moment elevating the presentation. The storyline has been seen before, as young artists suddenly making it big and getting into a production of a musical show to be presented on film. But when was a musical ever original on the subject matter? For the handsome lead to appeal to women, he must act out as a bachelor. He is married, however, to the female lead, and the secret give rise to some intrigue twists where jealousy is a dramatic drive, but to the surprise of no one everything is cleared, so we can end our cinema evening on a happy note.
Prinsesse for en dag (1962)
I recently reviewed the new 'MGP Missionen' and this is the same simple story of a girl, who wants to be a singer. That ambition held true on behalf of the young actor, Gitte Hænning. After having completed a small number of films in Denmark, where she made it better than the subject matter she appeared in, she turned her attention south of the border and made it big as a German pop singer, 'Die Gitte'. This was a sober decision. Everything considered her singing talent might be better than her acting talent. I might not be quite neutral as a reviewer, for experiencing this picture for the first time I was brought back to my own youth, where films were more naive and goodhearted than today. The naive touch becomes Gitte well, and then there is a luring eroticism as an added attraction to her 16 years appearance. The film also displays the media scene of the day, where pirate ships in international waters transmitted popular entertainment to the young generation. Soon the official legal broadcasting systems adopted their approach, and the pirate music broadcasting became obsolete.
Karl Gjellerup, the author of the book behind this movie won the Nobel Prize award and this is perhaps his best drama. The film version is true to the book, but surprisingly it did not get to be acknowledged as deserved by the critics nor the public. People had other more intrusive dramas to relate to in 1943. Yet, they did not fancy Carl Th. Dreyer much either. The director is no Dreyer, but he uses his professional craft to pull a solid and worthwhile adaptation across that holds to this day, if you perceive it the way it was intended. The film 'Præsten i Vejlby' sets a theme that can be compared with 'Møllen'. The dutch mill is a main character as well as the well casted group of actors, and there is even some spooky superstition adding to the horror like presentation. And of course the poor miller has to pay for his act, as was the rule in old moral dramas. Vera Gebuhr is more of a woman with ambition of social climbing than a mere femme fatal, which suits the drama very well and prevents a more simplified conceptual presentation.
MGP Missionen (2013)
Where there is a will there is a way
'Look at me - where there is a will there is a way' is the title song contribution to a song contest for young people. The girl contestant, Sawsan, is from a Muslim immigrant family, and she is not allowed to participate, but her efficient initiative works things out eagerly supported by a boy, Karl, moving from another culturally marginalized group of people in the province and into a metropolis school with an immigrant majority of pupils. It is an interesting fresh alliance between members of these different ethnic groups, and one of the humorous scenes is actually when the parents on their way to track down the fugitives agree upon the notion, that young people are allowed to do much more today than is good for them. In some way the song contest proves them wrong. Martin Miehe-Renard has mostly worked for television and directed installments of family film series, but here he tries something extra and he manages to steer clear of the obvious traps of political correctness sustained by his action filled cinematography and the most convincing immigrant girl staling the show.
Danish feature animation
The featured yellow jungle animal's name Hugo was dropped from the title, since there at the time was a popular TV troll with that name. Another yellow jungle animal with a long tail, the marsupalimi, came first, but at that time, it only made the jungle uncertain in comics. Line animation is expensive and it took years after Valhalla before Danish animators pulled together making this film, where music by Flemming Quist Møller helped the popularity among younger kids along. Teaming up with a female fox Hugo having left his home manages to make it in the civilized yet chaotic concrete jungle. Jesper Klein lent his voice to one of the characters, and that actor made as number of voices to other animated films adding to his varied career in the media. However, you can actually tell that this feature thought out in Danish has a number of details in the rendering showing that this is not just a foreign film with voice dubbing. The success continued with a sequel maintaining the level of quality from the first film.
Move to Sweden
Birger Larsen had his debut as an actor in 'Vil du se min smukke navle' and twelve years later, he continued as a director with 'Lad isbjørnene danse'. His follow-up also based on a novel by Ulf Stark again put the attention of children's conditions in focus. A single mom inherits a summerhouse in southern Sweden, and she moves there with her two children. There is poetry and mysticism surrounding their newfound existence but the children also experience difficulty adapting to their altered conditions. The story was originally a three part series made for television, and that may explain why it tends to get a bit whimsical but still quite sympathetic. The film did not fare well at the box office, so for a number of years Birger Larsen turned to the field of advertising. He also contributed to TV films and series before returning to feature films with another children film 'Superbror'.
En loppe kan også gø (1996)
Young life in the province
This is a family film based on a novel by Jens Peder Larsen scripted by film maker Erik Clausen, who also has a role in the movie, but it is not the usually comedy type film. I have had a fondness for the Swedish director Stellan Olsson since having experienced his moody 'Sven Klang's kvintet' in my youth dealing with the difficult conditions of pulling off a creative career. He has not made many films, but they are all fine, this one included. The teenage girl Rosa is slightly handicapped with her leg but that does not drag her down. Her mother pursues a creative career in the big cities and Rosa is left in the province with her quiet father being a painter himself. The convincing liveliness of Rosa shines through, and the village has a number of quaint but sympathetic characters. A setback is that she is attracted to a boy in school who does not look her way. The secluded existence in the small village could easily affect her emotionally, but she keeps up the good spirit a long time. In the end, a story element introduced to work towards a more happy end does not work out being convincing.
Stop motion basic style
Jørgen Vestergaard made a number of shorter stop motion TV productions for children, mostly from fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, before making late in his career a feature film, 'Snøvsen' based on stories by the word playing poet Benny Andersen. Here is a combination between puppets and live action people and it works well, since the puppet here is a non moving toy with life induced from children's imagination. That has worked before and it works this time, too, being the age before the introduction of digital effects changed filmmaking radically. This production is mostly for younger kids but the presentation is interesting enough to catch the attention of grownups as well, and the film spun a sequel however not up to the standard of the first film. Jørgen Vestergaard also made some documentary films, particularly one about the prolific Danish-Dutch Oscar winning film animator Børge Ring.
Næste stop paradis (1980)
Old people on the move
Jon Bang Carlsen has made a number of memorable documentaries, and this was his first dramatic feature film, his pictorial oriented view on surroundings clearly demonstrated in showing the static depressing surroundings of old people confined to a nursing home leaving us with a feeling of compassion. The leading couple brilliantly portrayed by Karen Lykkehus and Preben Lerdorff Rye are getting together in a newfound relationship in spite of the institution working against it. There is a refined moody atmosphere all through this production showing our old couple with profound tenderness and warmth. Karen Lykkehus deservedly received a Bodil award for her leading performance. At that time, it was a new thing to focus with subtlety on the older generation in feature films, but Jon Bang Carlsen succeeds beautifully in carrying across his noteworthy ambition.
New gender roles
This film meant the only real success for director Esben Høilund Carlsen. It takes place in a time where people had to come to terms with new gender roles and the audience appreciated seeing how others played out these new roles. This was often executed within the framework of broad simplified comedies, but in this case, the subject matter is treated with subtlety and a kind of refinement, giving the actors the opportunity to add nuances to their characters. Therefore, we both experience irony as well as compassion shifting our view along the way. Having in some way passed this experimental stage of relationships today, we can still respect this movie for carrying a believable statement on the gender play of yesterday. The cutting is fast and vigorous and the dialog is snappy and well paced. Many otherwise painful situations are relieved by an overbearing or ironic treatment. The emotional depth is difficult to handle considering all the different storytelling elements in play, but the sum total is a movie steering clear of the traps threatening that difficult genre.
Thorvald og Linda (1982)
railroad workers 1912
Lene and Sven Grønlykke unfortunately made only a couple of films, and they are fine accomplished original achievements. In this film in tinted colors true to the period it presents, a group of tough railway workers relaxes and visits the inn, where the female innkeeper, Linda falls in love with the boss of that workers' team, Thorvald, yet she becomes more emotionally attracted to the Argentinian troubadour Miquelin. The photography by Jesper Høm and Claus Loof is lively and effective with an international quality. The film presents a convincing picture of the living conditions among workers and lower class people from that time, and the love affair between the two main characters almost gets lost in the cavalcade of exotic colorful situations. Linda's sudden infatuation of a southern troubadour seems like an assertion. However, a fine group of supporting characters fill the environment with liveliness and gusto.
Herfra min verden går (1976)
back to the roots
Christian Braad Thomsen best known for his knowledgeable essays on film history and technique and his career as a reviewer and columnist also made a few films. This documentary on his own small hometown in the province is a most touching and impressive emotional comment on a countryside village on its way towards destruction from the old people dying and the young ones moving out. This development has not diminished since the Seventies, and many places in the province are sad sights with everything in a withering state of affairs. This film is neither nostalgic nor sentimental. It includes stories about skeletons in the local closets including incest, suicide and narrow-mindedness. Other films from the Seventies are political left wing statements, but maybe the closeness of the subject matter prevents this film to carry that fate of political left wing correctness so common of the period. In some way, the theme continued in 'Hvor mindets blomster gror' from 1991.
Vil du se min smukke navle? (1978)
This film being the debut of Søren Kragh-Jacobsen all centered around a class of pupils on a tour to Sweden. The theme was close to hand, for after his education on the Prague film school he spent a number of years in the children and youth department of the national Danish broadcasting system. He also issued a record with songs capturing the mood among young people of the day. In retrospect, it is evident that the director accomplished his best achievements when focusing on children and youngsters mirroring society. The film came to be the definition of authentic looking youth films and had of course the universal theme of boys and girls with growing sexual awareness meeting for the first time. The execution of the film made with enlightening vigor and humor meant the debut for young actor Birger Larsen, who twelve years later chose to continue his career as a director with another children's film, 'Lad isbjørnene danse'.
Lars Ole, 5c (1973)
First Malmros film
This film was the debut of Nils Malmros followed by two more films centered round his own childhood in Århus in the Fifties. Malmros stands out as the film director drawing upon autobiographical motives. When he is not doing so, his films are less interesting. This attitude could be extremely egocentric, and many artists are like that to some degree. In his latest film he admits, that this character trait cost him the life of his own child. After his childhood trilogy he continued to dig into his youth and found dramatic stuff there, he could draw upon like some kind of Ingmar Bergman. The masterpiece 'Kundskabens træ' is made over a long period at the age where you can clearly see the children mature physically during the process of shooting making that production one of its kind. Another film is about his own father. His presentation always stand out and few other directors have made a profile tuned to autobiographical subject matter all through their career, but Malmros has succeeded in doing so.
Upper class violence
The Danish author Gustav Wied often used rough satirical strokes in his books, and Anders Refn is true to this atmosphere when making his film version of 'Slægten'. The baron Helmuth, played with vigor and strength by Jens Okking is a domineering patriarch who runs his household and estate with brutal egocentric self-righteousness. This arch type character presented with no mercy prepare us for the tragic conclusion of this old countryside manor drama. How the baron has come to be a tyrant might be understandable when we meet his heartless mother played by Bodil Udsen, who has a most uncommon devilish role in this drama. There are none but few sympathetic grown up characters, which also is the setback for a closer human identification with the drama as such. However, Gustav Wied is also remembered for more moderate small town caricatures in 'Livsens Ondskab' and 'Knagsted'. The cinematography has international grandeur rendered by Mikael Salomon.
Egocentric male revealed
This is a satirical movie by the effective humorist filmmaker Helle Ryslinge, who had already established her style in 'Flamberede hjerter' with much acclaim. The male leading part, Lasse, is a pompous egocentric liar, and probably since the director is a woman, there are no forgiving points to his touchy performance. Maybe the director has to come to terms with some personal discomfort showing us this uncompromising unsympathetic character. Lasse shows a highly questionable jealousness to his partner's creative success, and it only gets worse as the plot progresses. Furthermore the director manages to make her female character thoroughly convincing, no question helped along by the fact that she herself is a woman. The ensemble of strange original characters in the surroundings add an almost Fellini like dimension to the sordid affair. Women can indeed be funny, in case you had any doubt.
Poeten og Lillemor (1959)
Comics coming to life
There are a number of comics transferred to film, and that trend carried on even today with the vast number of superheroes revitalized by adventure films backed by CGE effects. In Denmark in the fifties popular family comics such as 'Far til Fire' and 'Poeten og lillemor' were brought to life. The main character was modeled after the Danish poet Frank Jæger, and once I actually lived in the neighborhood of his village house. After nine years in a daily newspaper, the comic had become an institution, so Erik Balling thought it safe to portray it on film. The poet family couple performed perfectly by Henning Moritzen and Helle Virkner makes us accept details that is rather silly, but together with the ensemble of colorful local characters in the village, where the poet family through a donation can afford to buy a modest house, things work out to our indulgence. Capable director Balling prevents this comedy vehicle from ending up as a mere farce. The film caused two sequels to be issued, but they were not so sparkling as the first installment.