UPDATED: Norwegian films may not be known for producing profits at the box office but they are producing a certain amount of prestige. By the time Liv Ullmann’s new film Frøken Julie (Miss Julie) premiered to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend, two other new Norwegian films already had been shown there as well.
Meanwhile, several of the record number of 15 Norwegian films released this autumn have been selected for viewing at other film festivals while others are grabbing international attention for their action and their scenery.
“I can guarantee lots of great film experiences,” Sindre Guldvog, director of the Norwegian Film Institute, said when all the new films were introduced for the local media and industry officials in August. “Having three Norwegian films selected for the Toronto film festival is very strong.” Guldvog and his colleagues talked of an “explosion” in Norwegian filmmaking. “We used to produce eight films a year, now we’re producing 34,” noted Stine Helgeland of the film institute.
Some suggest that’s too many for a small country like Norway to finance with state support, not least since a recent study indicated that three out of four films lose money at the box office. Norwegian films have had some international success in recent years though, and their market share at local cinemas has soared. Newspaper Aftenposten recently described this year as “the best cinema year for Norwegian film in 39 years.”
The first Norwegian film to premiere this season, Børning, wound up doing well, generating good reviews and selling nearly 140,000 tickets during its debut weekend in mid-August. That was the best opening for a locally made film so far this year. The film, shown at 176 cinemas around the country, revolves around a wild car race over the length of Norway, from Oslo to the North Cape, featuring scenery and plenty of action along the way.
“We had great faith in the film,” producer John M Jacobsen of Filmkameratene told newspaper Aftenposten, “but these numbers exceed even our wildest fantasies.”
Several of the other films also show off Norwegian scenery and a bit more, including Mot Naturen (Out of Nature), a drama comedy about a father in his 30s who feels a need to “get away from it all” and head into the mountains on his own. It was also selected for the Toronto International Film Festival along with 1001 gram (1001 Grams), Bent Hammer’s new film about a workaholic scientist who needs to weigh her own priorities. Hammer’s film was selected as Norway’s candidate for best foreign film at the next Academy Awards show in Hollywood.
Standing ovation for Ullmann
Miss Julie was generating a lot of the hype at the festival, though, not least because of the stature of its director, Norwegian film legend Liv Ullmann. She has adapted August Strindberg’s play Frøken Julie to be set not in Strindberg’s native Sweden but in Ireland, as a battle of the sexes and social classes. Ullmann also wrote the screenplay for what the film institute calls her “updated English-language costume drama.” It premieres in Norway on September 12.
Ullmann, who admitted to being nervous about the premiere, ended up with a standing ovation and reviews that left some critics claiming that the star of the film, Jessica Chastain, should receive the next Oscar for best actress. Ullmann was clearly proud, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), and relieved.
Pirates and Arctic grab attention
The season’s most-hyped film in Norway, though, is the action adventure film about the Norwegian pirate Kaptein Sabeltann (Captain Sabertooth), which already has attracted interest from no less than 70 countries. It’s being distributed by The Walt Disney Company Nordic and will premiere in Norway on September 26.
Other films featuring uniquely Norwegian locations include Bjørnøya, the latest documentary from three Norwegian brothers who want to surf waves no one has ever surfed before. For those who think Svalbard and Spitsbergen have become mundane, they headed for the even more remote Arctic island of Bjørnøya (Bear Island), lived there for two months in the harshest of climates and surfed waves like they’d never seen before. It premieres October 10.
Operasjon Arktis (Operation Arctic) is another film set in a frigid location with a Robinson Crusoe-like theme about three children abandoned on an isolated Arctic island because of the two younger children’s sheer disobedience. Their older sister has to figure out how to defend them from the brutal climate, hungry polar bears and loneliness. It premieres October 17.
Other films explore culture clashes involving Norway’s immigrant population (Haram) and depression among women who try to do too much (Flink pike). A long-awaited film based on Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel Beatles, about four boys growing up in 1960s Oslo, premiered at the film festival in Haugesund to mixed reviews and then failed to attract big crowds at the box office when it opened August 29.