Favorite (Best) Scandinavian Movies/Films

Scandinavia

Travel off the beaten path

I'd like to share my list of favorite Scandinavian films with you. Hollywood has affected the film industry in other countries and yet, these films have an quality that transcends cultures and even surpasses anything done in Hollywood. Due to the disturbing themes, none of these are suitable for children.

Danish:

  • Celebration (Festen)
  • Chinaman (Kinamand)
  • The Substitute (Vikaren)
  • Terribly Happy (Frygtelig Lykkelig)
  • In a Better World (Hævnen)

Finnish:

  • The Man without a Past
  • Rare Exports

Icelandic: Noi the Albino, Jar City

Norwegian:

  • Låt den rätte komma in (Let the right one in, 2008)
  • Monsterthursday
  • Trolljegeren (Troll Hunter, 2010)

Swedish:

  • Den Osynlige (The Invisible)
  • Smalla Sussie (Slim Susie)
  • Ondskan (Evil)
  • Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
  • Flickan som lekte med elden (The Girl who Played with Fire)
  • Så som i himmelen (As it is in Heaven)

Finnish and Swedish: Mother of mine

Den Osynlige (2002)

A teenage boy goes to school one morning, only to find that no one can hear him.  Or see him.  Basically, he has become invisible.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, it sure does.  It's the plot of The Invisible (2007), which was directed by David S Goyer, and starred Justin Chatwin and my favorite, Marcia Gay Harden.  Billed as a sort of Sixth Sense for this decade, it didn't quite deliver. 

Your best bet is to try the original film, Den Osynlige, directed by Joel Bergvall and Simon Sandquist, and starring Gustaf Skarsgard (son of actor Stellan Skarsgard) as Niklas.  This version provides the back story that holds it all together.  Better yet, read the book, by Mats Wahl.  Swedish.

The Man without a Past (2002)

This film, directed by Aki Kaurismaki, stars Marku Peltola as a man suffering from amnesia after a beating.  Homeless, he escapes the social net, and winds up living in a shipping container.  From this base, he develops a romance with a Salvation Army Officer, played by Kati Outinen.  Finnish.

Slim Susie (2003)

Slim Susie (Smala Sussie), co-written and directed by Ulf Malmros, is usually described as a comedy. Or as a mystery. It's probably a little bit of both. There are aspects of this movie which are very funny, and parts of it which are funny in a very dark way that is completely out of the mainstream American sense of humor, and yet, reminds me so much of living in a small town in Alaska, where everyone knows everything about everyone else. Basically, the plot is about a man who returns to his small town to look for his missing sister and what he finds as he searches for her. It might be the language (Swedish), it might be the culture, but there are several unexpected twists in this film that I never saw coming.

Evil (2003)

Andreas Wilson stars in Evil (Ondskan), a movie about a violent youth who is given once last chance at straightening himself out when he is sent to a boarding school. At first I was worried that the movie was going to take a predictable "The Lord of the Flies" tack, but the story, based on the autobiography of Jan Guillou, packs a powerful punch. In fact, this film has scenes of violence that I found so disturbing that they were difficult to watch, but they were integral to plot development. Hollywood has stylized violence to the point that viewers are desensitized to it--director Mikael Håfström shows us violence that is up close and personal.

Noi the Albino (2004)

This film ( Nói Albinói), directed by Daqur Kari, is about a teenage boy (Tomas Lemarquis) who manages to be at odds with almost everyone he comes across--from his father to his school.  He is intellectually gifted with no clear potential outlet for his intelligence or talents--his irascibility leads to him being thrown out of school.  Like many people in small towns in Alaska in the winter, he dreams of moving to a warmer climate. Although the ending is foreshadowed, it still comes as a tremendous shock. Icelandic (I like how the language sounds).

Monsterthursday (2004)

I was a little confused by the premise of this movie--is it a love story? A tragedy? A surf movie? Or is Monstertorsdag, directed by Arild Østin Ommundsen, a mixture of all three with a unique Norwegian spin? The film is set in a Norwegian village on the coast. Much of it is filmed in areas eerily familiar to anyone who has lived that far north--the huge sand dunes, held together by the tall sea grass, the unforgiving rocks on the shore, and the beautiful Northern sunlight of the long summer days. The main character, Even, played by Vegar Hoel, is in love with Karen (Silje Salomonsen), who is married to Christian Skoelmen, a professional surfer. In order to prove himself, Even undertakes to learn to surf, even though, as one of the other characters wryly observes, he has no natural ability. I knew that there were big waves and surfers in remote areas of Alaska, so it stands to reason that Norway has developed its own surfing culture.

Mother of Mine (2005)

This film (Aideista parhain), directed by Klaus Haro, is about Finnish boy sent to Sweden during World War II. The boy, played by Topi Majaniemi, clearly does not want to leave his mother, and the great gulf between the power of children and adults is underscored by the willingness of the adults to use physical force to get him out of Finland, especially when they become impatience with his reluctance to evacuate. His life on a remote farm in Sweden is both beautiful and complex, leaving him with problems that continue to haunt him as an adult. Finnish and Swedish.

One film well worth watching: Let the Right One In (2008). Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Vampires. Bullies. Swedish. Hollywood version = Let Me In (2010), directed by Matt Reeves.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män Som Hatar Kvinnor) (2009)

This Swedish move is the first of three movies based on the late Stieg Larsson's trilogy. I have really become a fan of Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace gives a masterful performance in the role of Lisbeth Salander. Nyquist stars as a Swedish journalist tangled in the complexities of the Swedish legal system and Rapace as a computer hacker who sometimes aids him, sometimes seems to be working at cross purposes, with an unsettling agenda of her own.

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) 2009

(Spoiler alert) I am currently watching the second of the three movies in this trilogy.  Noomi Rapace again gives an edgy performance as Lisbeth Salander.  In this movie, a journalist and a graduate student who were looking into seamy underside of Swedish culture apparently investigated the involvement of powerful people in the sex trade too thoroughly.  Salander once again winds up as an outsider fighting the forces that would destroy.

Öraefajökull.  Andreas Tille photo.  http://fam-tille.de/island/winter/0212/2003_085.html
Öraefajökull. Andreas Tille photo. http://fam-tille.de/island/winter/0212/2003_085.html

Rare Exports (2010)

Well, when it rolls around to the end of the year, you have to ask yourself, have you been naughty or nice? Imagine a Santa who does more than leave coal in your stocking and you have this Finnish film with take on the Santa Claus myth that will have you quivering in your boots. Directed by Jalmari Helander.

More movies

Chinaman (Kinamand, 2005).

Kinamand, also directed by Henrik Ruben Genz, was a big surprise for me. Keld, a plumber, seems to have lost contact with the world around him. He has dissatisfied customers and an angry wife. His customers find another plumber and his wife leaves him for another man and then wants a divorce. One of the conditions of the divorce is that he give his wife a sum of money that, given his failing business, would be impossible to raise until the owner of a Chinese restaurant offers him the money. The catch is that Keld has to marry the restaurant owner's sister from China to make it legal for her to stay in Denmark. Just like Terribly Happy, the plot takes some unexpected turns. Delightful.

Jar City (2006)

Jar City (Mýrin) is an Icelandic film directed by Baltasar Kormákur based on a book by Arnaldur Indriðason. I'd call the book a mystery, and it might fall into the category of crime drama or police procedural, but Indriðason does so much more than this with his writing and with the unique complexities of Icelandic culture. The good news is that this is carried over into the movie--a murder is solved and no one winds up happy. See the movie or buy the book--you can't go wrong.

The Substitute (2007)

The Substitute (Vikaren) is a Danish film directed by Ole Bornedal.  It falls into the category of science fiction--the substitute teacher for the sixth grade class is an alien--but goes one step further with unsettling images.  The script delicately portrays some of the difficulties in communication between children and adults.  I liked Paprika Steen and Ulrich Thomsen in Festen (Celebration) and they are equally up to the task in this movie.  See it and tell me what you think!

Terribly Happy (2008).

Terribly Happy (Frygtelig Lykkelig) is a Danish movie directed by Henrik Ruben Genz. It is about a policeman who has been sent to a remote town as a sort of last chance at redemption. Despite the name of the movie, none of the characters in the town are very happy. The plot twists and turns in ways that I never expected. A definite must watch.

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Comments 10 comments

DarleneMarie profile image

DarleneMarie 7 years ago from USA

You have piqued my interest in foreign films...I'll have to request them from my local library :)


minnow profile image

minnow 7 years ago from Seattle Author

Hi DarleneMarie--it's amazing how many good films are out there--so many movies, so little time--and you bring up a good point: local libraries will often carry some of these titles. Thanks for stopping by!


Miki 5 years ago

I've only seen Noi from that list and I liked it.

From Denmark I recommend Festen (The Celebration), which started the whole Dogme thing I believe. And if you like violent crime films, The Pusher trilogy is a must.


minnow profile image

minnow 5 years ago from Seattle Author

I have Festen in my queue and although I don't like violent films, I will take a look at the Pusher Trilogy. Thanks for the suggestions!


simon 5 years ago

good selection! Also check out 'The Bothersome Man': http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0808185/


minnow profile image

minnow 5 years ago from Seattle Author

Hi Simon,

I have added "The Bothersome Man" to my queue. Thanks for the suggestion.


Nancy 4 years ago

Could you help me remember the name of one of my favorite movies (which I carelessly forgot). It's about a boy whose mother is unable to care for her two sons. The child makes his mother promise to look after their dog and then leaves to live with his uncle in a small town. The movie deals with the adaptation of this boy to village life. I hope that I've given you enough to go on. Many thanks.


Manu 4 years ago

Let the Right One In (2008) (Låt den rätte komma in) Is a good movie!


minnow profile image

minnow 4 years ago from Seattle Author

Thanks, Manu! I'll add it to the list. :)


kikibruce profile image

kikibruce 3 years ago from New York

Cuckoo is an excellent Finnish Film. Flame and Citron is a great one with Mads Mikkelson.

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