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Gothenberg closes in style

The closing night ceremony at the 35th Gothenberg International Film Festival (GIFF) last night was a cheerful affair livened up by brassy host Shima Niavarani a Swedish hybrid of Bernadette Peters and Bette Midler who had a whipsmart sense of humour (in English, no less) and a powerful singing voice.

Taking place at the Clarion Post Hotel in the centre of the city, the ceremony ended the 11-day festival which featured the best of new Nordic cinema as well as a large international programme. I had never been to the festival and was impressed by the clear focus of each section, the stunning Draken cinema – named for the Golden Dragon Awards synonomous with GIFF – and the popular Nordic Film Market which took place in the final weekend.

The festival had one of the best trailers I’d ever seen – in which a family assembles to visit the baby dragon they have in a basket in the spare room. I never tired of seeing the CG-animated dragon yawning cutely, while remnants of its fiery breath burned and sizzled around the house.

The eight new Nordic films themselves in the Dragon competition – which competed for a SEK1m prize – were for the most part strong. Axel Petersen’s Avalon (Sweden) had already played Venice and Toronto last year, but this was a Nordic premiere and its amusing and disturbing portrait of aging amoral playboys in the resort town of Bastad was well-received. As was Teddy Bear (Denmark), which was fresh off a best director (world cinema) win in Sundance for Mads Matthiesen. The unlikely story of a 38 year-old bodybuilder trying to escape his mother’s tyranny who travels to Thailand to find love benefits from a subdued performance by the gigantic Kim Kold, whose biceps alone filled the Draken screen to quite startling effect.

I already reviewed Company Orheim (Norway), Arild Andresen’s devastating exploration of how alcoholism and abuse tears a family apart, which falls into a classic Scandinavian tradition of tortured family drama but is no less good for that. Another picture of troubled childhood, albeit somewhat lighter, Jens Lien’s Sons Of Norway (Norway) follows a punk teen in the 1970s with a radical communist father who is almost too liberal and progressive. The witty film had its world premiere at Toronto and this screening was a Swedish premiere.

Either Way (Iceland) directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson is an amiable two-hander which shows that you don’t need a large cast or a budget to create something memorable. This tale of two men doing summer work painting road markings in remote Iceland is a mournful picture of masculinity, maturity and romantic longing set against sweeping landscapes.

I chuckled at the Swedish comedy Flicker by Patrik Eklund, an absurdist multiple-character piece set in a provincial telecommunications company which had a unique style despite numerous doffs of the cap to Bent Hamer, Caro & Jeunet and TV’s The Office.

Freshest of all at GIFF was She Male Snails, a remarkable film, neither fiction nor documentary, in which director Ester Martin Bergsmark explores his both-male-and-female-nature and the brutality of a society which refuses to accept difference. The film is focused on Bergsmark and his real-life partner Eli Leven, wonderful sensitive souls whose struggles for self-discovery and a place in the world are illustrated through long dreamlike sequences of a she male snail, or “old lady boy” (the literal translation of the Swedish title Pojktanten), as he grows from child to adult. It’s film as artwork, and not for everyone [there were plenty of walkouts from the Draken screening] but its images of beauty and ugliness are highly memorable.

In fact She Male Snails would dominate the closing awards ceremony. The jury, under Austrian director Jessica Hausner, was clearly split between the excellent but conventional Company Orheim and the experimental She Male Snails, and, while Orheim ultimately took the SEK1m top prize, She Male Snails won an honourable jury mention and the audience prize. Collecting the audience prize on stage, Niavarani coaxed Leven to join her in an impromptu version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. Leven then stayed on stage and joined her for a rousing Moon Over Alabama.

It was certainly the most entertaining closing ceremony I’ve seen in years and it’s refreshing to know that both Company Orheim and She Male Snails will travel extensively to festivals to show the world different colours of the Nordic talent spectrum – and there isn’t a terrible murder or world weary cop in either.

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