A new Scandinavian wave of cinema is spreading in Cannes

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Stockholm (AFP) – Following in the footsteps of Ingmar Bergmann, Lars von Trier and the Dogme movement, a new generation of Scandinavian filmmakers is making waves, with three directors competing in this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Swedish director Robin Ostlund, winner of the 2017 Palme d’Or for The Square, is back with the song Triangle of Sadness.

He is joined by two other films with rising stars of immigrant background: “Boy from Heaven” by Sweden’s Tariq Saleh and “Holy Spider” by Danish-Iranian director Ali Abbasi.

Scandinavian films have been a staple at the Cannes Film Festival over the years.

Denmark’s Bill August is one of the few to have won the Palme d’Or twice and von Trier won first prize in 2000 for “Dancer in the Dark”, while Bergmann was the first to receive an honorary Palm in 1997 for his body of work.

Claus Christensen, editor of the Danish film magazine Echo, said Nordic filmmakers often “push the boundaries of the cinematic language”.

“It’s entertainment, but (the goal) is also to challenge the audience. The director has the freedom to explore his artistic vision, whatever it may be,” he told AFP.

Abbasi, 40, is making his second appearance at Cannes, after winning the Un Certain Regard Newcomer section in 2018 with “Border,” an eccentric fantasy film about a border guard.

His new movie “Holy Spider” is the brave story of a serial killer who “purifies” the Iranian holy city of Mashhad of street prostitutes.

“You can’t smash him. When you think he’s with you, he’s trans and he’s doing something else,” producer Jacob Garrick told AFP.

Abbasi has recently finished filming episodes for the upcoming HBO post-apocalyptic series “The Last of Us”, which is based on a video game.

Garrick said that this diversity distinguishes others of his generation.

Immigrant Perspectives

The previous wave of Danish filmmakers, such as von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, were won international acclaim with the Dogme movement, which set strict filmmaking rules aimed at ensuring realism in their films.

Garrick said the new generation is “more willing to work with genre, to mix genres: doing comedic, lighter things mixed in with dark things.”

The films of both Abbasi and Saleh depend heavily on their immigrant backgrounds.

Abbasi left Tehran for Sweden in 2002, while Saleh was born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and an Egyptian father.

He told AFP that Saleh’s background was essential in the filming of “Boy from Heaven.”

“I think there’s a reason that a lot of directors, historically, have immigrant backgrounds, like (Francis Ford) Coppola and Milos Forman,” the 50-year-old said.

“You are put in and out of something. In a way, that’s the director’s role… to see both the similarities and the differences.”

hidden world

Boy from Heaven is a dark thriller set in Cairo that follows the story of a poor boy who won a scholarship at the prestigious Al-Azhar University, and who finds himself drawn into a brutal power struggle between Egypt’s religious and political elite.

Salih said being an outsider was crucial.

“No one has ever entered (Al-Azhar University) with a camera before. (An Egyptian director) would have gone to prison if he did that,” he told AFP.

Saleh, a former graffiti artist, grew up with a filmmaker father and worked in his own film studio before attending art school in Alexandria.

In addition to directing the episodes of “Westworld” and “Ray Donovan”, his 2017 film “The Nile Hilton Incident”, which was also shown in Cairo, won the Sundance Grand Jury Award.

Meanwhile, Ostlund, the dean of the trio with six features under his belt, is presenting his first English-language film in Cannes.

“Triangle of Sadness” is a satire about luxury cruise passengers who end up stranded on a deserted island, mocking the world of fashion and the wealthy, with scathing criticism of society’s focus on beauty.

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