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New wave of Swedish and Danish film rolls into Cannes

A new generation of Scandinavian filmmakers is making waves, following in the footsteps of Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier and the Dogme movement, with three directors in competition at Cannes this year.

New wave of Swedish and Danish film rolls into Cannes
Swedish director Ruben Ostlund celebrates with his trophy on May 28th, 2017 after he won the Palme d'Or for his film 'The Square' at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

Swedish cult director Ruben Ostlund, who won the 2017 Palme d’Or for “The Square”, is back with “Triangle of Sadness”.

He is joined by two other films from rising stars with immigrant backgrounds: “Boy from Heaven”, by Sweden’s Tarik Saleh and Danish-Iranian Ali Abbasi’s “Holy Spider”.

Scandinavian films have been a fixture at the Cannes Film Festival over the years.

Denmark’s Bille August is one of a handful to win the Palme d’Or twice and Von Trier won the top prize in 2000 for “Dancer in the Dark”, while Bergman was the first-ever recipient of an honorary Palme in 1997 for his body of work.

Nordic filmmakers often “push the limits of cinematographic language,” said Claus Christensen, editor of Danish film magazine Ekko.

“It’s entertainment, but (the goal is) also to challenge the audience. The director has the freedom to explore whatever his artistic vision is,” he told AFP.

Abbasi, 40, is making his second appearance at Cannes, after winning the newcomer’s Un Certain Regard section in 2018 with “Border”, an eccentric troll-fantasy film about a border guard.

His new film “Holy Spider” is the gritty story of a serial killer “cleansing” the Iranian holy city of Mashhad of street prostitutes.

“You can’t pigeonhole him. When you think you have him, he’s a shapeshifter and does something else,” his producer Jacob Jarek told AFP.

Abbasi recently finished filming episodes for the upcoming post-apocalyptic HBO series “The Last of Us”, based on the video game of the same name. That versatility defines others from his generation, said Jarek.

Swedish actress Eva Melander and Danish-Iranian director Ali Abbasi pose as they arrive for the closing ceremony of the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

Immigrant perspectives

The previous wave of Danish filmmakers, such as von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, won international acclaim with the Dogme movement, which set strict filmmaking rules aimed at ensuring realism in their films.

But the new generation is “more willing to work with genre, to mix genres: to do comedy and lighter stuff mixed with dark stuff,” said Jarek.

Both Abbasi’s and Saleh’s films draw heavily on their immigrant backgrounds.

Abbasi left Tehran for Sweden in 2002, while Saleh was born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and Egyptian father.

Saleh’s background was essential to making “Boy from Heaven”, he told AFP.

“I think there’s a reason a lot of directors, historically, have immigrant backgrounds, like (Francis Ford) Coppola and Milos Forman,” the 50-year-old said.

“You’re positioned on the inside and outside of something. In a way, that’s the director’s role… to see both the similarities and the differences.”

Tarik Saleh accepts the World Cinema: Dramatic Grand Jury Prize for his movie “The Nile Hilton Incident” during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival/AFP

Hidden world

“Boy from Heaven” is a dark thriller set in Cairo that follows a poor boy granted a scholarship to the prestigious Al-Azhar University, who finds himself drawn into a brutal power struggle between Egypt’s religious and political elite.

Being an outsider was crucial, Saleh said.  “No one has ever gone into (Al-Azhar University) with a camera before. (An Egyptian filmmaker) would go to prison if they did,” he told AFP.

A former graffiti artist, Saleh grew up with a filmmaker father and worked in his film studio before attending art school in Alexandria.

In addition to directing episodes of “Westworld” and “Ray Donovan”, his 2017 film “The Nile Hilton Incident”, also set in Cairo, won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize.

Meanwhile, Ostlund, the doyen of the trio with six features under his belt, is bringing his first English-language film to Cannes.

“Triangle of Sadness” is a satire about passengers on a luxury cruise who end up stranded on a deserted island, lampooning the fashion world and ultra-rich, with a scathing criticism of society’s focus on beauty.

By AFP’s Pia Ohlin and Camille Bas-Wohlert

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CULTURE

Two streaming services quit production of Danish-language content

Streaming service Viaplay is to stop producing Danish content, following a similar decision by Netflix earlier this year.

Two streaming services quit production of Danish-language content

Viaplay announced the decision in an open letter to the Producentforeningen and Create Danmark unions, which represent producers and film industry workers such as writers.

The two Danish unions recently reached a rights agreement in January which intended to ensure that filmmakers and screenwriters receive a larger share of the profits if a series or film is distributed widely and is successful. 

Both Netflix and TV2 Play have already ceased production of Danish fiction programmes as a result of the agreement.

“Until we have reached a sustainable agreement, we cannot see any immediate alternative than putting further production of Danish fiction projects on hold,” Viaplay chief content officer Filippa Wallestam wrote in the statement.

“In the long term, we hope we can find a viable way so that we can again produce fiction in Denmark and thereby achieve our ambitious goal of becoming the leading provider of Danish-produced films and series,” Wallestam said.

Viaplay’s chief content officer also said that the rights agreement and a new governmental policy requiring production companies to pay 6 percent of their profits as a “cultural contribution” to support Danish public media could make Denmark “a low priority market in relation to investments in local content.”

The cultural contribution is a recent introduction by the government and specifically requires streaming companies to pay a 6 percent levy on their profits in Denmark.

The agreement between Producentforeningen and Create Danmark runs for two years.

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