Some 85 films were submitted for consideration for the 2017 best foreign language Oscar. Sweden’s entry, A Man Called Ove, made the final shortlist of five before losing out to Iran’s The Salesman. The other 80 must have been appalling if the Hannes Holm-helmed dramedy was seen as one of the best of the year (Julieta, Elle, Neruda, My Life as a Zucchini are just a few that failed to make that final five).
Lonely, grumpy widower Rolf Lassgard (After the Wedding, The Hunters) learns to smile again after a new family moves into the neighbourhood. Off-kilter humour early on gives way to crowd pleasing tosh, resulting in disjointed comedic sentimentality. Deeply unimpressed.
Oscar-nominated Danish film, Land of Mine is the riveting story of a group of young German POWs forced to clear a beach of thousands of buried landmines.
Based on true events where thousands of (mostly teenage) German POWs lost their lives in the immediate months following the end of World War II clearing landmines, director Martin Zandvliet (Applause, Teddy Bear) focuses on a small group under the watch of an angry Danish sergeant (Roland Moller – A Hijacking, Northwest).
Avoiding excess melodrama or grandstanding, the stark economy of dialogue and action result in concern for each of the boys whilst understanding the anger of the Danes towards what they represent. Beautifully photographed with understated performances, Land of Mine is a deeply moving anti-war film full of chilling suspense.
A true story told as a predictable melodrama, The Fencer is conventional but engaging.
Endel Nelis (a solid Mart Avandi) arrives to teach at a school in the small Estonian town of Haapsalu during the post-war Stalin era. His leaving Leningrad stirs suspicion among party officials at the school: the fact he is a fencing champion adds to their interest.
Starting a successful fencing class as part of the (‘voluntary’) Saturday Sports Club goes against the proletariat teaching of the principal – and brings attention on Nelis from education officials outside the town. And then the kids get wind of an all-Soviet elite fencing competition due to take place in Leningrad….
The Fencer is a David & Goliath story set in the drab, atmospheric 1950s (perfectly captured in set design and cinematography). It’s an unchallenging enjoyment marred slightly by an overemphatic score.
A remote, windswept valley is the setting as two brothers, estranged for 40 years in spite of their farms sharing common boundaries, must come together to save their livelihoods – the sheep that graze the barren landscape.
It’s a quiet, quirky drama, the unfolding winter-set tragedy imbued with a dark humour. Director Grimur Hakonarson (Summerland, A Pure Heart) draws us into the brothers’ world – and their relationship with the land and, importantly, the sheep. Like the film itself, lead Sigurour Sigurjonsson, the elder of the two brothers, is an understated, nuanced presence that stays with you.
I would like the two hours of my life spent watching this pretentious claptrap back.
Bizarre, overtly stylised, heavily staged, muted tones – a series of vaguely connected vignettes (some only seconds long) loosely exploring ethics and morality. Banal, nonsensical, annoying – the jury at the 2014 Venice Film Festival deserve to be served up in b’stilla (Moroccan pigeon pie) in awarding this the Golden Lion.
Sweden’s entry into the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar – and apparently one of the favourites. Not wholly convinced.
The main problem is that the arguments within the film peter out into nothingness and feel unresolved – which is a pity as for the first two thirds of its two hours, it’s deft, provocative and uncompromising in exploring the expectations behind masculinity and parenting.
And the location – high in the French Alps – is beautiful.