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Laughs amid the dark stuff at Scandinavian Film Fest L.A.

January 5, 2012 |  9:00 am

Le havre
If Southern California’s balmy winter has you dreaming of more northern latitudes but travel is not in your budget, perhaps a trip to the Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. can at least temporarily transport you to the more frigid fringe of Europe.

Starting this weekend and continuing Jan. 14 and 15, the noncompetitive festival boasts a “smorgasbord of Nordic cinema” with features, shorts and documentaries from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden -- including each of those country’s Academy Award submissions for best foreign-language film.

The region has a rich tradition of filmmaking, ranging from Ingmar Bergman’s character dramas to Dogme 95, the avant-garde film movement of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.

“We sometimes joke that we're the festival that has Prozac instead of popcorn,” says festival director Jim Koenig. “But this year is risible proof there are good laughs in Nordic film -- along with the dark stuff we know and love.”

This is the 13th year of the festival, and screenings are held at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. A gala will be held Saturday before the screening of “Beyond,” Sweden’s Oscar submission starring Noomi Rapace, known for her role in the Swedish film adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2009) and currently on-screen in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

Among the family-friendly, dramatic and comedic fare, a few cinematic selections stand out. Click ahead to read what's on the slate.

“Happy Happy”

Norway’s Academy Award submission by filmmaker Anne Sewitsky, who won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for this comedic directorial debut. The film follows the domestic life of eternal optimist Kaja, her uninterested boyfriend and their “perfect” new choir-singing neighbors.


This Swedish Oscar submission is Pernilla August’s directorial debut. Rapace stars as Lena, 34, who must return to her hometown on Christmas to face her estranged mother and memories of her dark childhood.


Iceland’s Academy Award submission premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has been called “a mature and emotionally devastating film directed with extraordinary sensitivity.” The dramatic love story, directed by Rúnar Rúnarsson, follows Hannes, a retired janitor who must resurrect his life and personal relations.

“Le Havre”

Aki Kaurismaki’s warmhearted political fairy tale, set in France, is the Academy Award submission from Finland and features the intertwined fates of Idrissa, a young African refugee, and Marcel Marx, a bohemian French shoe shiner who stands up to deportation officials on the boy’s behalf.


The Danish Academy Award submission directed by actor Ole Christian Madsen is a madcap tale about a Danish wife and mother who runs off to Buenos Aires, becomes a sports agent and falls in love with one of Argentina’s biggest soccer stars, all while pursued by her estranged husband, who is determined to win her back.

“Hello W”

Finnish director Juha Wuolijoki’s biopic depicts the eventful life of his great aunt Hella Wuolijoki, a politically ostracized entrepreneur, politician and writer whose plays are now regarded as modern classics.

“The Good Son”

Finnish director Zaida Bergroth’s dramatic tale follows an actress who takes refuge at her family’s summer house with her two sons and forms a relationship with a leftover weekend party guest, a charismatic writer who causes a rift between the boys.

“Women With Cows”

Peter Gerdehag’s Swedish documentary follows two adult sisters on their dairy farm in the director’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2006 documentary “The Horseman.”

“Priest of Evil”

This Finnish crime/thriller from director Olli Saarela follows a serial killer and his pursuer, a detective in the Helsinki violent crimes unit struggling to recover from the tragic loss of his daughter.


Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s crime thriller follows an accomplished headhunter who risks everything to obtain a valuable painting owned by a former mercenary.


Movie review: 'Le Havre' 

'Happy, Happy': movie review

-- Sari Heifetz Stricke

Photo: Marcel (Andre Wilms), left, and Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) in Aki Kaurismki's "Le Havre." Credit: /Janus Films