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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Who is Sweden’s ‘King of Cringe’?

As Swedish director Ruben Östlund picks up his second Palme d'Or, The Local asks who is the man known as Sweden's 'King of Cringe?'

Who is Sweden's 'King of Cringe'?

Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness was awarded the Palme d’Or in Cannes on Saturday night, marking the second time he has won the award following his 2017 success for The Square.

Triangle of Sadness is a biting social satire that sees a celebrity fashion model couple, played by British actor Harrison Dickinson and South African actress Charlbi Kriek, encounter unexpected events on an exclusive cruise for the super-rich.

Östlund, known by some as Sweden’s “King of Cringe”, explained to the media that he wanted to make a film that got people talking: “We wanted to entertain them, we wanted them to ask themselves questions, we wanted them to after the screening go out and have something to talk about,” he said.

It seems he achieved his ambition and Triangle of Sadness lived up to Östlund’s ‘King of Cringe’ moniker – complete with a vomiting scene that has reportedly been the talk of the town in Cannes this week – and news agency AFP noted that scenes from the film left “viewers either howling with laughter or turning green” during its premiere. King of Cringe he may be, but who is Ruben Östlund?

King of Cringe

Born in Styrsö, Gothenburg, in 1974, Östlund got his start in filmmaking on the Swedish ski slopes while working there after leaving school. Initially filming his friend’s skiing stunts, Östlund’s films won him a place at film school in Gothenburg and after graduating and setting up his own production company, he got to work on more serious filmmaking.

The Guitar Mongoloid (2004) and Involuntary (2008) were his first films, quickly followed by Play (2011), and Force Majeure (2014).

The Guitar Mongoloid won an award at the 27th Moscow International Film Festival, and Östlund’s short film Incident by a Bank won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival.

Force Majeure won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and is when Östlund really crowned himself as Sweden’s ‘King of Cringe’. A cringe-laden relationship drama set in the French Alps, Force Majeure has been described in reviews as “gleefully uncomfortable”. 

The awards continued in 2017 when Östlund picked his first Palme d’Or for The Square, another satire, this time about an art curator navigating several personal and professional crises.

Triangle of Sadness picked up the top prize last night in Cannes.