A quick search of the words most associated with Nordic revealed things like bleak, dark, midnight sun, cold, ABBA and bikini (?!). All of these words, bar the last two, are evocative of the Scandinavian regions but also aptly describe the Nordic social-realist cinema of the last decade. This has been led by the avant-garde Dogme95 movement. Brooding, passionate films such as Open Hearts and Reprise make full use of the long, drawn-out days and nights. Much has been suggested of what exposure to prolonged amounts of light and dark can do to the mind and soul.
The Dogme95 movement, established by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg in 1995, set the blueprint for Nordic films to follow. As the name suggests, it was a ‘brief’ or manifesto that suggested rules that budding filmmakers within the movement should adhere to. Filmmakers were encouraged to make films that rejected big budgets and special effects. Some were shot entirely on location, didn’t use specific props (only using what was found on set) and had a naturalistic, hand held style. Also the director wouldn’t be credited, renouncing ownership. These are just a few ground rules, many of which were broken in the first films made by Vinterberg and von Trier within Dogme95. Nonetheless, Dogme95 has managed to influence (or at least seep into) the sub-conscious of many Nordic filmmakers, aided by its emphasis on low budget and a simple style. An example of this is Joachim Trier’s 2006 entry for the foreign film Academy Award, Reprise.
More recently, films seem to be focusing a little more on the fantastical. This month’s horror Let the Right One In beautifully combines the social-realistic style of Dogme95 with vampires. The result is subtle but still eerie and terrifying, much like the effect achieved by The Orphanage. Sundance hit, Dead Snow (no UK release date as of yet), also bucked the Dogme95 trend and opted to incorporate the fantastical element of Nazi zombies. The Nazi zombie genre isn’t a new idea, but Nazi zombies wreaking havoc on holidaymakers in mountainous Norway is – and it has hilarious consequences. This dose of black humour and satire injected by writer/director Tommy Wirkola will inevitably lead to comparisons with other zombie comedies of recent years. Think of it less of a zombie horror spoof and more of a satirical antidote to the more worthy WWII dramas doing the rounds and you’re getting close.
Dead Snow and Let the Right One In still owe much to the Dogme95 movement, more so with the latter, but they are also proving that Nordic cinema shouldn’t be stereotyped. With the global success of both these films it is time for the spotlight to once again focus on the cinematic efforts of our Northern cousins.