Deeply rooted in the genre dubbed ‘Nordic Noir,’ Nordic Factory is a compilation of short films by a group of filmmakers from Scandinavia and all around the world. The directors share a common theme, but have additional flairs from their own cultures and technical stylings.
Characterised by repression, guilt and regret, Scandinavian dramas have introduced a sense of new and original content into British television and film. The four shorts that comprise Nordic Factory (Sundays, Listen, Void, and The Girls and the Dogs) focus on these qualities. In a succinct manner, being shorts, they emphasise the problem and the atmosphere without the suggestion of hope or redemption. Perhaps it is this realism that appeals to a British audience? You be the judge.
Directed by Kræsten Kusk (Denmark) & Natalia Garagiola (Argentina), Sundays is a meditation on the loose sense of duty Anne feels for her ailing father, Theodor. The unsaturated colouring of the picture compliments the coldness of their relationship. It is a character-driven narrative with a pacing perfectly suited for a short film: the revelation of information is well timed. We only learn why Anne acts purely out of duty when visiting her father once we’ve established the characters and their general dispositions, which in turn reveals the reason she controls her emotions and reactions so carefully. The end of the film leaves us without a suggestion of hope for Anne. Her situation simply “is,” and she copes with it as best she can. The story’s realistic depiction reflects many personal stories that play out in much the same fashion. There is no commentary about the inner lives of many seemingly ordinary people, be it individuals on the street, in the market, or at the desk adjacent to one’s own. Sundays is an honest and realistic, albeit quite depressing, storytelling venture.
The second short film, Listen, directed by Hamy Ramezan and Rungano Nyoni is a joint Finnish/Zambian effort. Whilst the colouring is much the same as Sundays, the contrast is noticeably starker, as befits the film’s content.
An interesting technique at the beginning gives some insight into the perspectives of the characters. A woman, fully veiled, tells of her husband’s constant abuse and her fear for the lives of both her son and herself. Next, we hear the same words but we see another woman, with only her face exposed. The same begins again, only this time, we see a male police officer. Midway through the veiled woman’s monologue, the camera cuts to a female police officer. From here, continuity editing picks up as the narrative moves forward and we learn the second woman is meant to be an interpreter at a Danish police station. However, the purpose of being shown all three perspectives one after the other is to give a sense of differing motivations of the characters. The veiled woman is prostrating herself to find safety; the interpreter fears for the woman’s long-term safety and thus gives a false account to the police officers, who don’t speak the veiled woman’s language and mistake her for being loud, unruly, and impolite. It is an interesting take on miscommunication and possibly a commentary on the danger of stereotypes and racial frustrations.
The title says it all.
The third short, directed by Milad Alami (Denmark) and Aygul Bakanova (Kyrgyzstan), takes place (predictably) at night on a ferry towards Bornholm. Daniel, Scandinavian by descent, befriends Amir, a Palestinian from Copenhagen. The acquaintance seems dodgy to start, as Daniel, played by Lars Mikkelsen (Borgen and Sherlock 2010), seems to be coming on to Amir. But as with all uncomfortable characters, we find ourselves warming to him when he charmingly brings up his wife. Daniel now seems safe, and we mentally chastise ourselves for seeing something where there is nothing.
As the evening goes on, we are drawn to Daniel’s face. His gaze is distinctly predatory at certain moments, and when a close-up of him in the bathroom holds for just a second too long, we know that something is off with this encounter. Daniel has succeeded in befriending Amir, but he has an alternative agenda. He confronts Amir and tells him he wants him to have sex with his wife whilst he watches. Amir is alarmed and casts Daniel off him. He then takes pity on Daniel, seeing his odd behaviour as an act coming from pain, and agrees to go down to he and his wife’s room.
Again, the title says everything. Daniel has a void in his life and his behaviour is a sort of fetishised coping mechanism. The tragic beauty in a film like this is how perfectly it fits into its genre. Trying to relieve suffering by bringing another human into it does not always alleviate it. The message applies to the wider concept that life isn’t always positive. Realism better serves people than optimism, which sets them up for failure.
The Girls and the Dogs
The sunniest and most colourful of the shorts, this Nordic Noir was directed by Selma Vilhunen (Finland) and Guillaume Mainguet (France).
In their early teens, Mette, Lina and Anna Sophie are going to a party. But – they must pass through the woods and cross the beach to get their destination. (Sounds like a fairytale we’ve all heard of?). Chatting about the usual artifices of teenage life, the girls set out. In the midst of an important discussion about which boys will be at the party, Mette, the most thoughtful of the three, sees two shapes out on the beach. They turn out to be dead dogs, and, reminded of a story told to her by her granny, Mette proceeds to tell a Greenlandic story of creation. This story proves to be the most realistic element of the entire short. Instead of an Adam and Eve story of creation, Mette retells the story of a young girl, her rape, and the resulting offspring. The girls put the dogs to rest out at sea, then proceed with their banal chatter as they approach the complex where we assume the party will be taking place.
When Mette tells the story, the camera seldom deviates from her face, except for a couple reaction shots from Lina and Anna Sophie. It serves as a meta-narrative, that is, a story within a story, that comments on the larger story, i.e. the film The Girls and the Dogs. Being violent and desperate, the Greenlandic story of creation serves as contrast to the youth and promise of the girls, the sunny day, and their party. It reminisces about the uncertainty of life and that it is a process of destruction and creation, one we sometimes have little control over.
Nordic Factory is an excellent introductory Nordic Noir film for those unfamiliar with the genre and may pique interest in other television programmes of its kind (e.g. The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge, Wallander, The Hunt, Adam’s Apples). It’s equally as enjoyable if you’re already familiar with Scandinavian shows. Riddled with troubles, secrets, sadness, and gloom, you’re sure to think deeply about the broody tendencies on your telly that Brits just can’t get enough of.