The 23 Best Scandinavian Movies of The 21st Century
16. Mammoth (2009)
While not set in Scandinavia, Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth exhibits some of the Swede’s finest work. Starring the talented Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams, Mammoth is a drama about relationships across borders. Leo and Ellen are a workaholic couple; he runs a successful website while she works as a surgeon. They have a daughter, Jackie, who spends most of her time with their Filipino nanny Gloria.
Leo travels to Thailand to negotiate a deal with a foreign client. While he is gone, Gloria learns troubling news about her son and must travel back to the Philippines. In Thailand, Leo’s business reaches an obstacle and he is forced to stay abroad longer than expected.
In many ways, Leo and Ellen represent the modern couple: well educated, international, urban, and struggling with fidelity. Mammoth is a captivating drama about love and family in the age of globalization.
17. Let The Right One In (2008)
From Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy director Tomas Alfredson comes Let The Right One In, a fantastically dark drama. Oskar is the victim of bullies at his school. Eli is a young vampire. A relationship forms between the two, but their differences cause a few snags.
Despite having a vampire character, Let The Right One In neither resembles Twilight nor What We Do In the Shadows. This is a vampire film unlike you have seen before. While there is graphic violence, the film largely avoids the senseless tendencies of many horror films. Quiet, sensitive, and melancholy, Let The Right One In is a uniquely dark coming-of-age story.
18. In A Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier’s Academy Award winning In A Better World is an intense drama about the complexity of relationships. A family on the verge of divorce is tested further when a son enters a friendship with dangerous and tragic consequences. The film addresses the dangers of vengeance and its cyclical tendencies. Like After the Wedding, this film depicts the difficulty of familial relationships.
Told through two contrasting, simultaneous storylines, the film explores interpersonal conflicts and the limits of one’s character. With stunning cinematography, superb performances, and moving dialogue, In A Better World is another compelling masterpiece from Susanne Bier.
19. Bridgend (2015)
Though set in Wales, Bridgend maintains the dark, brooding tones found in many Scandinavian films. From December 2007 to January 2012, there were seventy-nine suicides committed in Bridgend, Wales. Almost all of the victims were teenagers that killed themselves in a similar manner. Danish filmmaker Jeppe Ronde moved to Wales for several years to report and study the bizarre phenomenon. However, rather than making a documentary, he turned his years of research into the fiction film that is Bridgend.
The film follows teenager Sarah and her father Dave as they move to a small village in Bridgend, Wales. She begins hanging around with the town youths, and falls in love with one of them. Meanwhile, Dave, the new policeman in town, is tasked with investigating the odd chain of teen suicides in the county. Haunting cinematography and natural performances from untrained actors (many of whom are actually residents of Bridgend) contribute to this film’s success.
20. Armadillo (2010)
A gripping and disturbing war documentary, Armadillo follows a group of Danish soldiers stationed at Armadillo, a military base in southern Afghanistan. Positioned dangerously near Taliban territory, the soldiers of Armadillo must fight daily to protect each other and their base. The film focuses less on the politics of the war and instead on the psychology of the soldiers, and the toll paranoia and fear can take on the human psyche. The soldiers are highly aware that they could die at any second.
Fearlessly shot by Janus Metz and Lars Skree, Armadillo may remind viewers of Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo and Korengal for their embedded coverage of modern warfare. The films are similar, though Armadillo, told through the lens of Europeans, lacks the hints of American exceptionalism found in Junger’s films. Armadillo does not paint a pretty picture of war or soldiers. In fact, the film sparked outrage in Denmark, as many were offended by controversial behavior exhibited by soldiers in the film.
21. Reprise (2006)
Reprise is the breakout film from the exciting new Norwegian-Danish filmmaker Joachim Trier. The film depicts the lives of two young aspiring novelists, Philip and Erik. They both have just completed their first novels and ship them off to publishers in hopes of becoming literary celebrities. Several months later, Philip, who achieved instant success, is in a mental hospital. Erik, unsuccessful in selling his novel, is still hard at work, determined to become a great author.
The film powerfully portrays the intense collision of youth and ambition and some of the unfortunate side effects. This is more than a coming-of-age story. It is a story about competing with others and one’s self. Despite addressing heavy topics such as mental illness, the film maintains a refreshing and youthful essence. It is a celebration of the struggle of youth.
22. Cool and Crazy (2001)
Cool and Crazy is a film about a Norwegian men’s choir. Like many other Scandinavian movies, this film charmingly and adoringly captures the seemingly simple lives of rural communities. Yet as the subjects expose details of their personal lives, one soon realizes the fascinating individuality of each of these characters, from the Communist to the drug addict.
The film is an ode to simple pleasures and the joys of camaraderie. Cool and Crazy beautifully explores the personal lives of these singers and portrays the purpose and pleasure they find in the companionship of their choir.
In contrast to the harsh, cold environment in which they exist, these men rejoice in the creativity and vulnerability of song. It is fascinating to watch these men in their natural habitats as well as in Russia. There is something particularly potent in the several scenes where the men can be found singing outside, in the elements, during a snowstorm or by the ocean.
23. Songs From the Second Floor (2000)
Roy Andersson’s Songs From the Second Floor is the first in a trilogy with You, The Living and A Pigeon Sat On a Branch Reflecting On Existence. The surrealist film from the Swedish director uses the poetry of Peruvian writer Cesar Vallejo as a recurring element throughout the film. Told through several darkly comedic vignettes, the film is a critique of Western capitalist society.
Striking cinematography, poetic narration, and unique plot structure make this film so much more than a commentary on corporate greed. The film is also a meditation on humanity, with hope shining through the cynicism. The winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Songs From the Second Floor is a brilliant and subtle masterpiece about misery in modern society.
Author Bio: Evan Davies is a filmmaker and video archivist from New York. Follow him on Twitter @vnrdvs.