Tag Archives: Danish cinema



Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 February 2014

Distributor: Curzon Film World

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Bell

Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, UK 2013

118 + 123 mins

This is a review of the theatrical version of the film, released in 2014.

In Lars von Trier’s 1998 Dada-spirited satire The Idiots, the characters pretended to be mentally retarded in a series of anarchic pranks that aimed to provoke reactions and shake up the social order. Just like his characters, von Trier often appears in the role of the idiot, the singular individual who won’t behave as is expected or conform to society’s collectively sanctioned discourse, as demonstrated most spectacularly by the furore that greeted his misperceived comments at the Cannes Film Festival three years ago.

Now, after the epic misery of Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist and Melancholia, he returns to the mischievous spirit of The Idiots with what is arguably his greatest film so far, a colossal saga of lust and life, a magnum opus that recapitulates everything he has done before, encapsulating major themes, character types and even scenes from previous films, and integrating them into an ambitious, intelligent and vivid work of tremendous depth and breadth.

Divided into two volumes of roughly two hours each, the teasingly titled Nymphomaniac tells the story of the troubled, bruised and battered Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she recounts it to gentle intellectual Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who rescued her after finding her unconscious in an alley. The first part covers Joe’s childhood and youthful erotic experiences with playful, witty verve, before descending into darker, more painful territory in the second part as Joe’s desires come up against the crushing pressures and constraining demands of adult life. The erudite Seligman responds to each episode that Joe describes with brilliant digressions on the art of fishing, Fibonacci numbers, Edgar Allan Poe, Bach, Roman punishments, James Bond, Zeno’s Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles, the Catholic and Orthodox religions and so forth, establishing connections and analogies between her experiences on the one hand and the history of human thought on the other hand, and in so doing, removing the notion of sin and Joe’s condemnation of herself.

Nymphomaniac Volumes I & II Director’s Cut is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on 10 May 2015 by Artificial Eye. Now with 90 minutes of previously unseen material.

All these cultural references are skilfully and inventively woven into the film, either prompting the revelation of a new chapter in Joe’s life, illuminating unexpected aspects of her story, or offering a different perspective on it. The storytelling is complex and controlled, as well as playfully self-aware, with Seligman sometimes expressing doubts about the veracity of parts of Joe’s story. Von Trier’s obvious love for the art and ideas referenced is never self-indulgent, but thrillingly demonstrates the profound and vital connection between art and life.

Occasionally, the dialogue between Joe and Seligman turns into debates on thorny topics such as anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, misogyny and women’s place in society, the outright condemnation of paedophiles and the use of words like ‘negro’. At times, it feels as if von Trier was responding to his detractors, at others as if he was having a dialogue with himself, using both characters to present the two sides of the discussions (attributing the more incendiary views to each of them in turns) in nuanced, thought-provoking ways.

Watch the trailer:

As all this makes clear, for all of the explicit trailers and the provocative title, Nymphomaniac is not a film about sex as much as it is a film about being human, about love, lust, desire, failings, irresistible urges and irrepressible terrors. The tone is one of ironic distance, but also of curiosity and openness, as the emotions and secretions of the strange human species are observed with quasi-scientific detachment tinged with – for von Trier – a surprising amount of amused warmth. Uncompromising and eye-wateringly candid, the film looks at all aspects of life, with an enormous desire to see everything and embrace it all, no matter whether it is beautiful or ugly, comical or disturbing.

In that spirit, von Trier examines the human body with wonderful, invigorating honesty, scrutinizing it in all its gooeyness, inspecting sperm, female lubrication, shit and blood with non-judgemental interest. The camera unflinchingly stares at cocks (erect, but also at rest in a gallery of penises that humorously shows off the diversity of the male anatomy), cunts, tits and arses; in sex acts, but also in sickness and in pain. Women have pubic hair in what seems almost a protest against the hair intolerance and sanitised female bodies of a porn-influenced mainstream culture, in the same way that the characters saying words such as ‘cunt’ and ‘negro’ feels like a giddy two fingers at the censoring self-righteousness of our strange neo-puritan age.

Supported by intense, in turns courageous and uproarious performances, as well as a soundtrack that includes everything from Rammstein to Beethoven, in keeping with the film’s free, open spirit, Nymphomaniac is an exhilarating tour de force that takes in the whole of the singular human experience, including the body and the brain, sex and love, art and life, and all of the complicated, painful and wonderful connections between them. Astonishing, energising and exciting, Nymphomaniac is a fearless film made by a man with a tremendous lust for life in all its cruelty, absurdity and richness.

Read our interview with Lars von Trier on Antichrist.

Virginie Sélavy

A Hijacking

A Hijacking

Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 May 2013

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Writer: Tobias Lindholm

Cast: Pilou Asb&#230k, S&#248ren Malling, Dar Salim, Abdihakin Asgar

Original title: Kapringen

Denmark 2012

99 mins

An impressive sophomore effort from Tobias Lindholm, A Hijacking tells the story of a Danish cargo ship taken over by Somali pirates, and the efforts to negotiate a peaceful and non-violent end to the affair by those back in Copenhagen.

Lindholm is an incredibly accomplished writer, having penned Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, this year’s breakout hit and a 2012 Cannes award winner, 2010’s under-the-radar Submarino (also directed by Vinterberg), as well as a number of episodes of the popular political drama Borgen. Donning both the screenwriter and director’s caps, the Dane has delivered on the promise he displayed with his hard-hitting prison drama debut, 2010’s R.

Although the title of his new release might suggest an adrenaline-rush ride, the reality is a little more refined: switching from the ship to the negotiations back in Denmark, the plot racks up incredible tension, ably supported by actors who never overplay their hand. As the ship’s cook, Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asb&#230k) brings restrained pathos to the role – with a wife and a young daughter back home in Denmark, he has more to lose than most of the other men on board. On the other side of the coin is Omar, (Abdihakin Asgar), who negotiates for the lives of these men with the CEO of the shipping company, Peter (played to mild-mannered perfection by S&#248ren Malling), who ignores the advice of the consultant and jumps into the situation with both feet.

Lindberg is audacious in his refusal to portray the hijacking – he doesn’t even stage the actual event, preferring to cut back to the ship after all the excitement is over. However, this should not be read as a negative comment – if anything, the audience is kept in the same position as the shipping company, the tension increasing tenfold as we learn exactly what happened during the hijacking.

The plight of the men is harrowing. As days pile up on days and the mood turns sour, they try to survive, lacking even the most basic comforts a human being can expect. Again, Lindholm never creates a false tragedy, a Hollywood-style emotional manipulation. Instead, he lets the scenario play through to its logical conclusion, involving the audience throughout the characters’ development.

Quietly, the impressive cinematography works to create beautiful contrasts between the ship and the offices in Copenhagen, while the sound is sparse but effective. All in all, A Hijacking is one of the most involving and well-written films to come out this year and is highly recommended to anyone looking for intelligent thrills.

Evrim Ersoy

Watch the trailer:


AFR poster

Format: DVD

Distributor: Sandrew Metronome

Director: Morten Hartz Kaplers

Writers: Morten Hartz Kaplers, Allan Milter Jakobsen

Cast: Kofi Annan, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Reimer Bo Christensen, Morten Hartz Kaplers

Denmark 2007

83 mins

Politics has, surprisingly, not been a target for the mockumentary as often as one might imagine, with the TV mini-series Tanner ’88, detailing the run for president by a fictitious candidate, and the made-for-TV movie The Death of a President, imagining the assassination of George W. Bush, the most easily recalled. The opportunities afforded for satire, scandal-mongering and provocation would appear to be a goldmine for filmmakers and television directors but it remains a largely untapped source of inspiration. One intriguing big screen take on the political mockumentary came out of Denmark in 2007: Morton Hartz Kaplers’s AFR - the initials of the then Danish PM and now Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen - was another what-if assassination scenario. Perhaps best suited to television, with nothing particularly ‘cinematic’ to warrant seeing it on the silver screen, AFR is as a whole somewhat underwhelming: its depiction of Rasmussen’s assassination and the subsequent search for his killer, thought to be his secret gay lover Emil, played by Hartz Kaplers himself, runs out of steam after a promising set-up. And yet in its deft interweaving of factual footage and staged scenes to comment on the Machiavellian world of politics, media intrusion, the age of celebrity, voyeurism and the nature of documentaries themselves, it feels like the natural successor, in terms of construction at least, to the work of Peter Watkins.

AFR is conventional in structure, pretending to be an after-the-event investigative exposé of the incidents leading up to Rasmussen’s murder and the potential identity of the culprit. It uses staged talking head interviews with fake politicians, friends and family members of both Rasmussen and Emil, footage from interviews with actual politicians (taken out of context to suit Hartz Kaplers’s narrative), images from the N&#248rrebro squat riots of the 90s and a damaging scandal involving Rasmussen early in his political career to paint a fictionalised portrait of the two ‘lead characters’ and Danish society as a whole. Alternative lifestyles, conspiracy theories, the war on terror, the anti-globalisation movement and political cover-ups all play a part in AFR‘s narrative, and figures such as Kofi Annan and George W. Bush crop up alongside the extensive footage of Rasmussen, in office and being grilled by the media, which has been corralled into this, for Danes at least, controversy-baiting alternative universe. An added murder-mystery element is introduced into proceedings as Emil, a troubled, volatile and independent thinker, is first fingered as the assassin before appearing to be the fall guy in an unresolved conspiracy reaching right into the heart of the Danish political elite.

Although AFR was branded as exploitative and in bad taste prior to its release, in much the same way as The Death of a President was, Hartz Kaplers’s mock-doc won the Tiger Award at the 2007 Rotterdam International Film Festival. Rather than being an attack on its titular subject, it makes political hypocrisy, media manipulation and social divides its real targets. It may be a minor piece but it’s an intriguing exercise in sound, image and history manipulation that, along with crime series Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and the hard-hitting Afghanistan war documentary Armadillo, which in their own ways both investigate and comment upon Danish politics, forms part of a provocative trilogy exploring the country’s recent past.

Neil Mitchell