Norwegian Films Offer Creative Sturm Und Drang for New York Cinephiles

05/05/2011 11:03 am ET | Updated Jul 05, 2011

Culminating in last night's screening of the Marvel Comics based Thor -- which has its roots in the Norwegian legends of the Norse Gods and their fabled home of Asgard -- films inspired by or created in the very chilly Scandinavian country of Norway have been in the NYC spotlight lately.

Okay, so connecting director Kenneth Branagh's Thor, the latest cinematic rendering of a Marvel Comic character, might be pushing the Nordic film connection, but this flick has hit most of the grandiose marks and certainly won't dissuade the interest in anything Norwegian. As quality genre flicks go, this one looks like it's worth the $150 million dollars that it cost.

This huge, effects-laden epic starts off with a scene set in Norway 899 AD, when the Gods, led by Odin (Anthony Hopkins), defeat the Frost Giants who have plaguing Midgard (Earth). The victory is won at a cost -- Odin's eye -- and the enemy is pushed back to their homeworld of Jotunheim.

When several giants try to regain the Casket of Ancient Winters, the source of their power which had been seized by Odin, Thor, his hot-headed, arrogant elder son (played by Chris Hemsworth) leads a band of fellow warriors to attack them -- defying his father's will and abrogating the fragile peace.

As a result, he's banished to Earth without his powers. Thor must now prove himself worthy in order to regain his hammer Mjolnir, his power, and then battle his evil brother Loki who has betrayed Odin and the other Gods.

Without going into the endless plot permutations, the Shakespearean-trained Branagh turns out to be an inspired choice to helm this tale told with over-the-top theatrical excess and incredible effects.

But the real Nordic incursion started during New Directors/New Films (which ran from March 23 - April 3) -- organized by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The fest screened Happy, Happy (Sykt lykkelig), Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky's feature debut which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Then the Tribeca Film Festival -- which took place between April 20 and May 1 -- selected Norwegian Jannicke Systad Jacobsen's feature debut Turn Me On, Goddammit (Få meg på, for faen) to have its world premiere (on April 23) in the fest's World Narrative Competition. It won the Best Screenplay for a Narrative Feature Film for the director/writer Jacobsen.

Another very different though equally well-done Norwegian feature The Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren) also was seen at TFF 2011 after a U.S. debut at Sundance earlier in the year. Distributor Magnolia Pictures has scheduled an American release later this year.

Both films turned a quirky eccentric eye on each of their respective genres. Turn Me On, Goddammit is a wry coming-of-age tale and The Troll Hunter offers a unique take on the classic monster myth as filter through a mock-umentary styled rendering (ala The Blair Witch Project). As highlights of this year's TFF, these films use their Norwegian cultural milieu as the bedrock to each story which informs them with a specificity of culture and image. That enhances the wackiness of each one by adding an curious wrinkle to their telling.

To really understand whatever the hell has been happening in Norway's cinematic community, try to catch the last night, May 4, of The Far Side of Paradise: New Films from Norway, a program which has been running sinec April 27 at The Lincoln Center Film Society's Walter Reade Theater.

This selection of recent Norwegian features and shorts has offered a great opportunity to get an overview of some of their best, including Arild Andresen's award-winning The Liverpool Goalie (Keeper'n til Liverpool), Stian Kristensen's The Man Who Loved Yngve (Mannen som elsket Yngve) and Margreth Olin's The Angel (Engelen).

In addition, veteran Norwegian directors Marika Sødahl, Bent Hamer and Marius Holst attended screenings of their latest titles -- Limbo, Home for Christmas (Hjem til jul) and King of Devil's Island (Kongen af Bastøy), respectively. There was also a special program devoted to the late Edith Carlmar, Norway's first woman director, who had visited the Walter Reade in 1999 (she directed Liv Ullmann in her first starring role).

To add to this catalog of such interesting Norwegian fare, Max Manus: Man of War -- the most expensive film production in Norwegian cinema history -- is getting a DVD release here shortly. A historical epic in the tradition of classic European films about World War II, the film tells the story of one of Europe's most celebrated resistance fighters, Max Manus. Directed by Norwegian filmmakers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, it won six Norwegian Academy Awards (including Best Film and Best Actor).

From the grand and glorious to the absurd, contemporary Norwegian cinema can be seen in local festivals, film centers and even on the big screen.

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