12 Essential Films For An Introduction To New Norwegian Cinema

6. Kongen av Bastøy (King of Devil’s Island) (2010)

King of Devil’s Island

Bastøy is an Island off the coast of Norway. Today it serves as a prison, but at the beginning of the 20th century it was a correctional home for young boys. Sadly the boys got the worst end of it and it lead to an infamous students revolt in 1915.

An, undoubtedly fictional, account of the events are given to the viewer as a young man named Erling (Benjamin Helstad) is take to the island in handcuffs. He is, like the rest of the boys, stripped of all personal belongings and clothes and has his head shaved.

We are shown the physical and mental abuse the boys endure daily, Erling is bent on fleeing the island, his ”comrades” advising him against it and the principal and his right-hand man (played wonderfully by Stellan Skarsgård and Kristoffer Joner) bent on breaking his resolve.

The movie plays like a Scandinavian, socialist ”Cool-hand Luke” for a short while, but becomes tragically grounded when one of the weaker boys star exhibiting signs of sexual abuse from Bråthen, the Principals right-hand.

The film is directed masterfully by Marius Holst, managing to balance the documentary aspect of the boys daily routine with the drama and tension brought by the main characters, although he is working with a layered and nuanced script, both in dialogue, plot and themes. Written by Norwegian literature champion Lars Saabye Christensen.

When the boys finally do fight back, lead by Erling and one of his friends, his characters journey among the more painful to watch, it is not as rewarding and cathartic as one might have hoped. The boys are violent, angry and, well – boys. The movies ending scene feels a bit out of place, as if only there to give the audience as sort of happy ending. But that aside, this remains one of the great Norwegian movies to be made in the 21st century.


5. Hodejegerne (Headhunters) (2011)


Director Morten Tyldum cemented himself internationally with this wildly enjoyable thriller. Based on a book by crime and childrenss writer/superstar Jo Nesbø. The movie frees itself of said authors awkward prose and soars on the adrenaline rush of a labyrinth plot as well as the humor brought forth by it’s characters.

Roger Brownn (Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter by day and an accomplished art-thief by night. He has a self-diagnosed napoleon complex, a beautiful wife and a lover. He is a 21st century yuppie and his wife is having an affair with the charming Dane Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who would be ideal for the position he is hiring. Clas Greve also has a painting worth more than Roger ever dreamed of.

It sounds like a sly caper, instead it turns into a violent, Choen-esque game of cat and mouse through the Norwegian countryside with Roger fleeing for his life and Clas Greve, with steely resolve and uncertain motives, chasing him.

It has all the inherent fun of a tight wound thriller, and when the plot falters or becomes too manipulative the style and direction smoothes over it and keeps us interested. It has been hailed as one of the definite Scandinavian thrillers for a reason and is one of the most suspenseful and sadistically fun movies produced in Norwegian cinema.


4. Oslo, 31 August (2011)

Oslo, August 31st

The main characters plight in ”Oslo, 31 August” might be far removed from the lives of many movie goers, but the quiet tragedy at it’s core is something we can all relate to in one way or another. Which might be why Joachim Triers film about a recovering drug addicts last day of summer and first day out of treatment became something of a surprise hit.

The main character, Anders (Anders Danielson Lie), remembers the city as he drifts through it: a childhood summer, his family home and parents are presented to us through his narration and short clips of 8mm film. He longingly remembers the happiness and his lust for life and tries, over the course of a day, to rediscover it, but finds it is not enough.

We follow Anders to a job interview, to a meeting with an old friend and to a party before the day is over, giving us 24 hours of life in Oslo.

Anders Danielsen Lie shows us a man struggle subtly, cool on the outside but full of despair. His actions sometimes seeming unprovoked or unmotivated to those around him, becoming clear, even to the audience, a bit too late. Anders is a smart, handsome and likable young man, and the movie both hungers for life and is steeped in sadness over his removal from it.

“Oslo, 31 August” is a truly touching, thoughtful and beautiful movie and an unusually honest drama about a painful issue.


3. Kon-Tiki (2012)

Kon-Tiki (2012)

The story about a Norwegian explorer who traveled from South America to Polynesia on a wooden raft to prove a theory sounds like something out of a Jules Verne tale, it is however a remarkable true story.

“Max Manus” directors Jocahim Rønning and Espen Sandberg brings the wonderful story about Thor Heyerdals (Pål Sverre Hagen) journey across the pacific to life with inspired flair. Helped by a cast who manage to explore characters that might have appeared flat and two-dimensional in less skilled hands.

The true story itself is exciting, but here it is infused with boyish excitement and adventurous spirit making it an epic spectacle about friendship, courage and discovery. Special effects sequences are well directed and the genuine relief felt as the explorers feel solid ground beneath their feet after days at sea is bound to put a smile on your face.


2. Død Snø/Død Snø 2 (Dead Snow/Dead Snow 2) (2009/2014)

Dead Snow

There’s an idea most Norwegian critics and high-strung movie goers seem to share, in that if something produced in Norway lacks subtlety and has comedy deemed too ”simple” it simply isn’t good. Which is a shame because it has lead to Tommy Wirkolas (”Hansel and Gretel: Witch hunters” director) most shameless work losing much deserved attention.

The first movie tells the story a group of Norwegian 20-somethings going to a cabin in the mountains. Once they reach the remote location they find a box of gold hidden during WWII. The gold is cursed and results in the awakening of Nazi Zombies(!) who will stop at nothing to maim their prey as violently as possible.

Mostly a send up to Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” and Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” (one of the characters even wear a shirt with the latter on) the movie tries hard to top it’s predecessor in low budget gore and dark humor, succeeding to some extent. It ends with all but one lone survivor dead and as he is about to escape we see the shadow of his enemies appearing in the window behind him. Sounds familiar?

The second movie kicks off right where the first one left off and heads towards civilization trying to spoof as many action-flicks as possible on the way. It all ends in a climatic battles of Zombie armies fighting each other and bad puns and visual gags flying more fiercely than intestines.

To any horror fan who’s tried just about everything this is something different without loosing it’s familiarity. All the imagery, gags and characters are borrowed, but placed in a new setting and helmed by the Norwegian love-child of Blake Edwards and Quentin Tarantino. What could go wrong?


1. 1001 Gram  (2014)

1001 Gram  (2014)

The Norwegian film industry greenlights a worrisome amount of light-hearted, ironic, romantic comedies every year, and most of them are O.K at best which is why this thoughtful, sweet, witty and charming Norwegian/French production is a lovely breath of fresh air and a hope of a new standard.

Marie (Ane Dahl Torp) is a scientist who’s sent to Paris to partake in a conference about the exact weight of a kilogram. The balance of her own life is upset, however, when her father has a heart attack and the movie shamelessly uses the allegory of measurement for most of it’s quirky talking points. She meets a frenchman named Pi (Laurent Stocker) and they grow fond of each other against the romantic backdrop of Paris.

Director Bent Hammers style is distinctively his own. His characters and plots quirky, naive and full of quiet liveliness. “1001 Gram” shows this style really come in to its own for the first time in his career and it’s often so enjoyable we forget how fascinating he has turned the premise of a debate weight and the idea of trying to live a ”balanced life” into such a wonderful gem of a tale.

Author Bio: Jarand Fredheim is a 20-something millennial living in a welfare state. He has a profound love of cinema, art and video games which takes up a worrisome amount of his time.