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The 10 Best Scandinavian Movies of All Time

10 January 2018 | Features, Film Lists | by Mirella Vasileva

Scandinavian films have always excited sensitive cinema lovers with their spiritual quests and deep dramatic plots. Denmark, Sweden and Norway established their cinematic studios soon after the birth year of film – 1895 – and became complete participants in its development in the beginning of the 20th century. During the World Wars period, their role in European film production become even more significant, and they affirm themselves as some of the most productive countries in the field.

Later Scandinavian countries gave the world cinema masters like Carl Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman, who don’t fear bringing up the big questions of life and look for the truth of humanity in their dark gloomy dramas. Their films are distinguishable by the clear stage settings; the raw characters on the verge of existential crisis; and the themes, which are concentrated on eternal human dilemmas, the need of God for making sense of the world around us, and the relationships between people, affected from the tragedies of life, alienation and loneliness.

Here we collected some of the greatest Scandinavian films of all time in chronological order.

 

1. Ordet (1955, Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Ordet (1955)

“Ordet” tells the story of a Christian family who suffer for their “lost” son Johannes, who have become delusional in his search of God. He believes he is Jesus Christ and walks around speaking of miracles and faith.

The film is about miracles and faith. The other men in the family – the eldest son Mikkel and the father – think the time of miracles is long gone. The doctor in the film believes only in the miracles of science and even the pastor doubts their existence. Still, there is a miracle right in front of their eyes – the radiant Inger, who carries Mikkel’s child.

The youngest son of the family is also looking for a miracle. He needs one, so he can marry the daughter of Peter, who is a Protestant.

Inger dies during childbirth and her baby is stillborn. This catastrophic event marks the beginning of a series of miracles, leading to the biggest one in the end of the movie.

 

2. Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman)

Persona

Once Ingmar Bergman was looking at a photo of actresses Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, thinking of how the two women are so alike, yet so different. The photo inspired him to make one of the greatest films of all time.

The story unfolds with the actress Elisabeth, who is performing on a theater stage and suddenly decides to stop talking. She continues her silence for days and weeks and the doctor decides that some rest on the seaside may help her deal with her psychological issues. Alma, a nurse, is sent with her to take care and keep her company.

The relationship of the two women becomes more and more intimate and intense, until they merge into each other and change their roles. Or maybe not. The film plays with the idea of reality and dream and contradicts itself by constantly reminding us that this is just fiction and art, rather than a true story.

 

3. Babette’s Feast (1987, Gabriel Axel)

Babette’s Feast (1987)

What can be the ultimate temptation? This film from Gabriel Axel deals with the question in a funny yet unusual way. The action is set in 19th century Denmark where two older sisters, daughters of the pastor of the village, try to maintain the faith and religious atmosphere for their fellow villagers after their father had died.

Years ago they havered a woman looking for shelter named Babeth, who used to be a cook in Paris. After Babeth wins the lottery, she decided to spend the money to cook the best dinner for the people of the village.

The tasty dinner seems like a challenge to the righteous life of the sisters, but turns out to be much more than that.

 

4. Hamsun (1996, Jan Troell)

hamsun-1996

The most famous Norwegian writer is a figure who is both loved and hated. He is appreciated for his talent and his books, but at the same time, people cannot forgive his support for Hitler and Nazism during World War II. “Hamsun” by Jan Troell gives us the insights of the family life of the writer and the issues with his wife.

The film takes us through the years of the war and the later aftermath and tries to justify Hamsun’s position by showing us how he was manipulated by everyone around him.

 

5. The Pusher trilogy (1996 – 2005, Nicolas Refn)

pusher

At the age of 24, with no education or much experience behind his back, Nicolas Refn shot his first short film “Pusher.” The outcome was so good that he got money to make a feature film of the same kind.

The feature film “Pusher” shows us a week of the life of Frank (Kim Bodnia), a drug dealer in Copenhagen who is somewhere in the middle of the drug hierarchy in the city. The big gangsters threaten him and he does the same with the ones below him.

“Pusher” gives us a view of the criminal world in Copenhagen. The characters we are introduced to sell drugs and live without taking any responsibility for their future, and most of all, have really bad luck. With “Pusher,” Refn lays out the character that he will develop in his next films – a man who has problems with aggression, women and life itself. Frank is persecuted by bigger and bigger issues over the course of the film and they are not just random misfortunes, but a direct consequence of his unwillingness to take some responsibility in his own life.

First, the film was planned to be a single piece, but due to a financial failure, Refn was put in a similar situation as Frank in the movie – he has to find a lot of money fast, so he comes back to the “Pusher” story and shoots two sequels, changing the main character every time.

 

 

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  • Kosta Jovanovic

    Dogville is considered a Danish production?

    • David Muggins Muir

      Denmark is part of Scandinavia, it encompasses Norway, Sweden and Denmark

      • Kosta Jovanovic

        Not what i asked

    • Yeah, Dogville is considered a Danish production (well more likely a Danish/Swedish/French production probably).

      Somewhere out there there are “official” convoluted guidelines for when and why movies are considered of certain nationalities (probably rules made up by the Oscar Academy or something like that).

      Dogville would be a Danish production because its production company is Danish, its director is Danish and it’s mostly funded by the Danish Ministry of Culture (though big bucks also comes from Sweden, Canal+ ect).

      But to be fair these European co-productions are a next-level patchworks of funding, so yeah, it’s sometimes rather difficult to quite understand how they figure out what country a given film is from.

      • Kosta Jovanovic

        Thank you

  • rudi reifenstecher

    this list could probably be exlusively Bergmann and Dreyer

    but if you make it diverse, where is Let The Right One In ?

  • Piotr Grabowski

    7th Seal ??????????

  • Babimbap

    Others worth watching Scandinavian movies:

    Adam’s Apples (2005)
    Festen (1998)
    Norway of Life (2006)
    Fucking Amal (1998)

  • Alain

    OR: 10 Films From A List Of Scandinavian Directors.

  • David

    Festen and Valhalla Rising?

  • JO

    First of all I would like to say that it is nice to see a list about Scandinavian cinema.I also appreciate the time and energy which all writers at Taste of Cinema puts into making a list. It makes me glad to see that Mirella Vasileva, a bulgarian (or any other nationalities for that matter), takes an interest in the Nordic Cinema. Having said that, I really would like to highlight several essential films from the three countries which sadly this list have overlooked. The list is far to focused on films made in the 00’s. The three nordic countries have a long and rich cinema history, which sadly too often gets overlooked. Information and availability is key when discovering the cinema of other countries, and sometimes getting information about Scandinavian films in other languages then swedish, norwegian and danish can be hard.

    Before I start I would also like to comment on this utterly stupid statement by Rudi Reifenstecher:

    “this list could probably be exclusively Bergmann and Dreyer”

    This statement is like claiming that Japanese movies are only Kurosawa and Ozu, that Indian movies are only satyajit ray or that Italian films are only Fellini and Antonioni. Obviously Reifenstecher have very little knowledge of Scandinavian Cinema.

    Sweden:

    There is several essential swedish directors. Especially Bergman gets a lot of praise, and often overshadow other great directors from this nation.

    Swedish film history is full of classics from the great silent films Körkarlen by Victor Sjöström (1921) and Häxan (1922) by Benjamin Christensen to this years Palm d’or winner Rutan by Ruben Östlund. I will list under some of the essential directors from Sweden and some of their work which is just as good as a lot of the more famous films from other european countries.

    Bergman:

    Sommaren med Monika (1953), Sommarnattens leende (1955) Det sjunde inseglet (1957), Smultronstället (1957), Jungfrukällan (1960), Såsom i en Spegel (1961), Nattvardsgästerna (1963), Tystnaden (1963), Persona (1966), Vargtimmen (1968), Skammen (1968), En passion (1969), Viskningar och Rop (1972), Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973), Höstsonaten (1978) and Fanny och Alexander (1982).

    Now that Bergman is done I will continue to highlight some of the prominent figures of Swedish Cinema:

    Bo Widerberg: His films was nominated three times for an oscar for best foreign language (ive marked them with a *). Widerberg is more concerned with social and political issues then Bergman.

    Kvarteret Kropen* (1963) (arguably his best film), Elvira Madigan (1967), Ådalen 31* (1969) (My personal favorite), Mannen på taket (1976) og Lust och fägring stor* (1995)

    Roy Andersson: En kärlekshistoria (1970) (Often seen as a defying film of the 70s), Sånger från andra våningen (2000), En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (2014).

    Jan Troell: One of the few foreign Directors who have been nominated for an Oscar for best Director for a foreign film (for the film Utvandrarna which also managed to be nominated for Best Picture).

    Här har du ditt liv (1966), Utvandrarna (1971), Nybyggarna (1972), Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd (1982), Il capitano (1991), Hamsun (1996), Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick (2008)

    Tage Danielsson: Att angöra en brygga (1965), Äppelkriget (1971), Picassos äventyr (1978).

    Lukas Moodyson: Fucking Åmål (1998), Tilsammands (2000), Lilja4ever (2002), Vi är bäst (2013)

    Ruben Östlund: De ofrivilliga (2008), Play (2011), Turist (2014), Rutan (2017)

    Other classics of swedish cinema by less prominent directors are: Flicka och hyacinter (1950), Älskande par (1964), Käre John (1965), Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult (1967), Flickorna (1968), Ett anständigt liv (1979), Den enfaldige mördaren (1982), Mitt liv som hund (1985), Oxen (1991), Under Solen (1999), Ondskan (2003), Så som i himmelen (2004).

    There is ofc other great Swedish films, but the movies and directors mentioned over here is a great start for anyone who wants to get into the cinema of sweden.

    Denmark:

    Carl Theodor Dreyer: Vredens Dag (1943), Ordet (1950), Gertrud (1963) (excluding his non-danish films)

    Nils Malmros: Drenge (1977), Kundskabens træ (1982), Kærlighedens smerte (1992), Barbara (1997)

    Bille August: Zappa (1983), Tro, håb og kærlighed (1985), Pelle Erobreren (1987), Den Goda Viljan (1992)

    Henning Carlsen: Sult (1966), Människor möts och ljuv musik uppstår i hjärtat (1967), Man sku’ være noget ved musikken (1972)

    Lars Von Trier: Europa (1991), Riget (1994), Breaking the waves (1997), Idiotene (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003), Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011) [Most of von Triers work is in English, but I count them as Danish. He have won the Bodil award for Best film several time for English Language productions].

    Thomas Vinterberg: Festen (1998), Jagten (2012)

    Susanne Bier: Elsker dig for evigt (2002), Efter Brylluppet (2006), Hævnen (2010)

    Other notable work by less prominent directors: Qivitoq (1956), Paw (1959), Harry og Kammertjeneren (1961), Babettes Gæstebud (1987), Dansen med Regitze (1989), En kongelig affære (2012), Krigen (2015), Under sandet (2016).

    The films of Nicolas Winding Refn could also be added, but I consider the directors mentioned above more influential to danish cinema then him.

    Norway:

    Norway is generally considered the little brother of Sweden and Denmark when it comes to film. The film industry in norway is viewed as less artistically successful than its neighbouring countries. Having said that, Norway have produced several well received genre movies and thrillers lately. You can find other list which highlights these film on Taste of Cinema, so I will insted list some of the essential older or lesser known classics.

    Erik Løchen: Jakten (1959) [Jakten and Ni Liv by Arne Skouen are often considered the best norwegian films of all time by norwegian film critics], Motforestillinger (1972). [Another fun fact is that Erik Løchen is Joachim Triers Grandpa].

    Joachim Trier: Reprise (2006), Oslo 31. August (2011), Thelma (2017)

    Arne Skouen: Gategutter (1949), Det brenner i Natt (1955), Ni Liv (1959), Kalde Spor (1962)

    Anja Breien: Hustruer I,II,III (1975, 1985, 1995), Den Alvarsamma leken (1977), Arven (1979)

    Other notable work by less prominent directors: Fant (1937), Fjols til fjells (1957), De dødes tjern (1958), Flåklypa Grand Prix (1975), Orions Belte (1985), X (1986), Veiviseren (1987), Herman (1990), Søndagsengler (1996), Insomnia (1997) Elling (2001), Salmer fra kjøkkenet (2003)

  • Kasimpilla

    Land of MIne

  • Ufuk

    Lilja 4-ever
    Although most of the story takes place in Estonia, it is magnum opus of Lukas Moodysson.

  • lihilaszlo

    The Seventh Seal? Adam’s Apples? Valhalla Rising? Flickering Lights?

  • JO

    First of all I would like to say that it is nice to see a list about Scandinavian cinema.I also appreciate the time and energy which all writers at Taste of Cinema puts into making a list. It makes me glad to see that Mirella Vasileva, a bulgarian (or any other nationalities for that matter), takes an interest in the Nordic Cinema. Having said that, I really would like to highlight several essential films from the three countries which sadly this list have overlooked. The list is far to focused on films made in the 00’s. The three nordic countries have a long and rich cinema history, which sadly too often gets overlooked. Information and availability is key when discovering the cinema of other countries, and sometimes getting information about Scandinavian films in other languages then swedish, norwegian and danish can be hard.

    Before I start I would also like to comment on this utterly stupid statement by Rudi Reifenstecher:

    “this list could probably be exclusively Bergmann and Dreyer”

    This statement is like claiming that Japanese movies are only Kurosawa and Ozu, that Indian movies are only satyajit ray or that Italian films are only Fellini and Antonioni. Obviously Reifenstecher have very little knowledge of Scandinavian Cinema.

    Sweden:

    There is several essential swedish directors. Especially Bergman gets a lot of praise, and often overshadow other great directors from this nation. Swedish film history is full of classics from the great silent film Körkarlen by Victor Sjöström (1921) and Häxan (1922) by Benjamin Christensen to this years Palm d’or Rutan by Ruben Östlund. I will list the essential directors from Sweden and some of their work which is just as good as a lot of the more famous films from other european countries.

    Bergman:

    Sommaren med Monika (1953), Sommarnattens leende (1955) Det sjunde inseglet (1957), Smultronstället (1957), Jungfrukällan (1960), Såsom i en Spegel (1961), Nattvardsgästerna (1963), Tystnaden (1963), Persona (1966), Vargtimmen (1968), Skammen (1968), En passion (1969), Viskningar och Rop (1972), Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973), Höstsonaten (1978) and Fanny och Alexander (1982).

    Now that Bergman is done I will continue to highlight some of the prominent figures of Swedish Cinema:

    Bo Widerberg: Widerberg is more concerned with social and political issues then Bergman. Films worth a watch: Kvarteret Kropen (1963) (arguably his best film), Elvira Madigan (1967), Ådalen 31 (1969) (My personal favorite), Mannen på taket (1976) og Lust och fägring stor (1995)

    Roy Andersson: En kärlekshistoria (1970) , Sånger från andra våningen (2000), En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (2014).

    Jan Troell: One of the few foreign Directors who have been nominated for an Oscar for best Director for a foreign film (for the film Utvandrarna which also managed to be nominated for Best Picture). Films by Troell you should watch: Här har du ditt liv (1966), Utvandrarna (1971), Nybyggarna (1972), Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd (1982), Il capitano (1991), Hamsun (1996), Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick (2008)

    Tage Danielsson: Att angöra en brygga (1965), Äppelkriget (1971), Picassos äventyr (1978).

    Lukas Moodyson: Fucking Åmål (1998), Tilsammands (2000), Lilja4ever (2002), Vi är bäst (2013)

    Ruben Östlund: De ofrivilliga (2008), Play (2011), Turist (2014), Rutan (2017)

    Other classics of swedish cinema by less “prominent” directors are: Flicka och hyacinter (1950), Älskande par (1964), Käre John (1965), Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult (1967), Flickorna (1968), Ett anständigt liv (1979), Den enfaldige mördaren (1982), Mitt liv som hund (1985), Oxen (1991), Under Solen (1999), Ondskan (2003), Så som i himmelen (2004).

    There is ofc other great Swedish films, but the movies and directors mentioned over here is a great start.

    Denmark:

    Carl Theodor Dreyer: Vredens Dag (1943), Ordet (1950), Gertrud (1963) (excluding his non-danish films)

    Nils Malmros: Drenge (1977), Kundskabens træ (1982), Kærlighedens smerte (1992), Barbara (1997)

    Bille August: Zappa (1983), Tro, håb og kærlighed (1985), Pelle Erobreren (1987), Den Goda Viljan (1992)

    Henning Carlsen: Sult (1966), Människor möts och ljuv musik uppstår i hjärtat (1967), Man sku’ være noget ved musikken (1972)

    Lars Von Trier: Europa (1991), Riget (1994), Breaking the waves (1997), Idiotene (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003), Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011) [Most of von Triers work is in English, but I count them as Danish. He have won the Bodil award for Best film several time for English Language productions].

    Thomas Vinterberg: Festen (1998), Jagten (2012)

    Susanne Bier: Elsker dig for evigt (2002), Efter Brylluppet (2006), Hævnen (2010)

    Other notable work by less “prominent” directors: Qivitoq (1956), Paw (1959), Harry og Kammertjeneren (1961), Babettes Gæstebud (1987), Dansen med Regitze (1989), En kongelig affære (2012), Krigen (2015), Under sandet (2016).

    The films of Nicolas Winding Refn could also be added, but I consider the directors mentioned above more influential to danish cinema then him.

    Norway:

    Norway is generally considered the little brother of Sweden and Denmark when it comes to film. The film industry in norway is viewed as less artistically successful than its neighbouring countries. Having said that, Norway have produced several well received genre movies and thrillers lately. You can find other list which highlights these film on Taste of Cinema, so I will insted list some of the essential older or lesser known classics.

    Erik Løchen: Jakten (1959) [Jakten and Ni Liv by Arne Skouen are often considered the best norwegian films by critics], Motforestillinger (1972).

    Joachim Trier: Reprise (2006), Oslo 31. August (2011), Thelma (2017)

    Arne Skouen: Gategutter (1949), Det brenner i Natt (1955), Ni Liv (1959), Kalde Spor (1962)

    Anja Breien: Hustruer I,II,III (1975, 1985, 1995), Den Alvarsamma leken (1977), Arven (1979)

    Other notable work by other directors: Fant (1937), Fjols til fjells (1957), De dødes tjern (1958), Flåklypa Grand Prix (1975), Orions Belte (1985), X (1986), Veiviseren (1987), Herman (1990), Søndagsengler (1996), Insomnia (1997) Elling (2001), Salmer fra kjøkkenet (2003)

  • JO

    Sweden:

    There is several essential swedish directors. Especially Bergman gets a lot of praise, and often overshadow other great directors from this nation. Swedish film history is full of classics from the great silent film Körkarlen by Victor Sjöström (1921) and Häxan (1922) by Benjamin Christensen to this years Palm d’or Rutan by Ruben Östlund. I will list the essential directors from Sweden and some of their work which is just as good as a lot of the more famous films from other european countries.

    Bergman:

    Sommaren med Monika (1953), Sommarnattens leende (1955) Det sjunde inseglet (1957), Smultronstället (1957), Jungfrukällan (1960), Såsom i en Spegel (1961), Nattvardsgästerna (1963), Tystnaden (1963), Persona (1966), Vargtimmen (1968), Skammen (1968), En passion (1969), Viskningar och Rop (1972), Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973), Höstsonaten (1978) and Fanny och Alexander (1982).

    Now that Bergman is done I will continue to highlight some of the prominent figures of Swedish Cinema:

    Bo Widerberg: Widerberg is more concerned with social and political issues then Bergman. Films worth a watch: Kvarteret Kropen (1963) (arguably his best film), Elvira Madigan (1967), Ådalen 31 (1969) (My personal favorite), Mannen på taket (1976) og Lust och fägring stor (1995)

    Roy Andersson: En kärlekshistoria (1970) , Sånger från andra våningen (2000), En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (2014).

    Jan Troell: One of the few foreign Directors who have been nominated for an Oscar for best Director for a foreign film (for the film Utvandrarna which also managed to be nominated for Best Picture). Films by Troell you should watch: Här har du ditt liv (1966), Utvandrarna (1971), Nybyggarna (1972), Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd (1982), Il capitano (1991), Hamsun (1996), Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick (2008)

    Tage Danielsson: Att angöra en brygga (1965), Äppelkriget (1971), Picassos äventyr (1978).

    Lukas Moodyson: Fucking Åmål (1998), Tilsammands (2000), Lilja4ever (2002), Vi är bäst (2013)

    Ruben Östlund: De ofrivilliga (2008), Play (2011), Turist (2014), Rutan (2017)

    Other classics of swedish cinema by less “prominent” directors are: Flicka och hyacinter (1950), Älskande par (1964), Käre John (1965), Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult (1967), Flickorna (1968), Ett anständigt liv (1979), Den enfaldige mördaren (1982), Mitt liv som hund (1985), Oxen (1991), Under Solen (1999), Ondskan (2003), Så som i himmelen (2004).

    There is ofc other great Swedish films, but the movies and directors mentioned over here is a great start.

  • JO

    Denmark:

    Carl Theodor Dreyer: Vredens Dag (1943), Ordet (1950), Gertrud (1963) (excluding his non-danish films)

    Nils Malmros: Drenge (1977), Kundskabens træ (1982), Kærlighedens smerte (1992), Barbara (1997)

    Bille August: Zappa (1983), Tro, håb og kærlighed (1985), Pelle Erobreren (1987), Den Goda Viljan (1992)

    Henning Carlsen: Sult (1966), Människor möts och ljuv musik uppstår i hjärtat (1967), Man sku’ være noget ved musikken (1972)

    Lars Von Trier: Europa (1991), Riget (1994), Breaking the waves (1997), Idiotene (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003), Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011) [Most of von Triers work is in English, but I count them as Danish. He have won the Bodil award for Best film several time for English Language productions].

    Thomas Vinterberg: Festen (1998), Jagten (2012)

    Susanne Bier: Elsker dig for evigt (2002), Efter Brylluppet (2006), Hævnen (2010)

    Other notable work by less “prominent” directors: Qivitoq (1956), Paw (1959), Harry og Kammertjeneren (1961), Babettes Gæstebud (1987), Dansen med Regitze (1989), En kongelig affære (2012), Krigen (2015), Under sandet (2016).

    The films of Nicolas Winding Refn could also be added, but I consider the directors mentioned above more influential to danish cinema then him.

  • JO

    Norway:

    Norway is generally considered the little brother of Sweden and Denmark when it comes to film. The film industry in norway is viewed as less artistically successful than its neighbouring countries. Having said that, Norway have produced several well received genre movies and thrillers lately. You can find other list which highlights these film on Taste of Cinema, so I will insted list some of the essential older or lesser known classics.

    Erik Løchen: Jakten (1959) [Jakten and Ni Liv by Arne Skouen are often considered the best norwegian films by critics], Motforestillinger (1972).

    Joachim Trier: Reprise (2006), Oslo 31. August (2011), Thelma (2017)

    Arne Skouen: Gategutter (1949), Det brenner i Natt (1955), Ni Liv (1959), Kalde Spor (1962)

    Anja Breien: Hustruer I,II,III (1975, 1985, 1995), Den Alvarsamma leken (1977), Arven (1979)

    Other notable work by other directors: Fant (1937), Fjols til fjells (1957), De dødes tjern (1958), Flåklypa Grand Prix (1975), Orions Belte (1985), X (1986), Veiviseren (1987), Herman (1990), Søndagsengler (1996), Insomnia (1997) Elling (2001), Salmer fra kjøkkenet (2003)

  • JO

    The list is far to focused on films made in the 00’s. The three nordic countries have a long and rich cinema history, which sadly too often gets overlooked. Information and availability is key when discovering the cinema of other countries, and sometimes getting information about Scandinavian films in other languages then swedish, norwegian and danish can be hard.

    “this list could probably be exclusively Bergmann and Dreyer”

    This statement is like claiming that Japanese movies are only Kurosawa and Ozu, that Indian movies are only satyajit ray or that Italian films are only Fellini and Antonioni. Obviously Reifenstecher have very little knowledge of Scandinavian Cinema.