Perhaps aside from France, you could argue that the second nation producing the most consistent stream of remarkable cinematic offerings in Europe is Denmark. This week marks the release of another fine film to come out of this great nation: the Academy Award nominated Best Foreign Language Film, political drama, A War.
The picture comes from the mind of Tobias Lindholm, one of the shining lights of the Danish film industry, following up his preceding movies R and A Hijacking – where he also collaborated with lead star Pilou Asbaek. This film, much like his previous offerings, has an obligation to realism that is unwavering in its approach. In A Hijacking, which centres on the theme of Somalian pirates attacking a Danish ship, he shot on a vessel that had been victim of such an attack, on pirate infested waters – using actors who had themselves witnessed such terrors. This is just emblematic of a filmmaker determined to evoke naturalism within his films – at any cost.
A War is no different, studying pertinent themes, and playing with the viewer’s moral compass; creating an internal conflict, and vitally, Lindholm always remains an impartial eye, merely documenting the events that unravel, agenda free. But this approach is hardly uncommon in Danish cinema – and it’s this commitment to realism which is partly why the nation breeds such breathtaking productions every year.
The kitchen-sink realism not only illuminates films from this region, but Denmark has played a big part in revolutionising naturalistic cinema, with the movement Dogme 95 an innovative, resourceful means of filmmaking that spawned the careers of two visionaries, still surprising us today, in Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. If you take Festen, a dark, haunting drama – shot unusually with a handheld camera, it predates even The Blair Witch Project.
Perhaps this is why Britain has always been so receptive to Danish cinema, for we too thrive in authenticity, with the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh behind some of the nation’s finest and most popular endeavours. Not to mention the similarities in the sense of humour – epitomised in how Vinterberg has admitted he one day hopes to make a picture based around Winston Churchill, who the auteur admits he admires for “winning a World War being absolutely pissed”. He has also claimed that it’s only Brits who laugh in the same places as the Danes, during his movies.
There is a wealth of remarkable, ingenious talents to have come from Denmark, dating back to the likes of Carl Theodor Dreyer and Bille August, to more contemporary directors such as Susanne Bier and Nicolas Winding Refn – not to mention Nikolaj Arcel and Lone Scherfig. Actors like Mads Mikkelsen are famous worldwide, while the Academy have also been keen admirers of films from Denmark, with Babette’s Feast and Pelle the Conquerer picking up the prestigious award in ’87 and ’88 respectively, while Bier’s In a Better World marked a recent triumph in 2010. A Royal Affair and The Hunt were unfortunate to miss out too, despite both being nominated.
The Danes have even translated their talents onto the smaller screen, as some of the most watched crime dramas out there have begun life in the Scandinavian country. Borgen, The Killing, and The Bridge to name just three. But anyway, that’s for a whole other article on another day – which just shows how much creativity is currently being produced from this humble nation.