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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Scandinavian Digression

I know. There's a lot going on in the whacky world of Washington politics, including my favorite, Trump's masterful trolling of the left with his military parade proposal. This is a brilliant boxing in of the Dems: make them oppose honoring our military and vets, and make them favor illegal aliens. Masterful. There will be time to discuss all this and more as we see further fall-out from the phony Trump-Putin collusion story. Right now, however, I am going to discuss movies. Well, a handful of Scandinavian films and TV shows which might, might just portend a reviving nationalism, especially in Norway.

Growing up, I was never a big fan of the pretentious sort of cinema put out by the late Ingmar Bergman. I found his movies, frankly, boring and not all that insightful. Since the end of that era, however, we have seen films and TV shows that demonstrate--Horrors!--that Scandinavians have a sense of humor, and very importantly, are rediscovering their own recent history. On the humor side, yes, humor from Scandinavia, I have to recommend a wonderful Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance, starring the terrific Swedish actor, Stellan Skarsgård, with a wonderful supporting part by the great German actor, Bruno Ganz (the best Hitler portrayal of all time was his in Downfall). Skarsgård plays a mild-mannered Swedish immigrant in Norway who drives a giant snowplow for a living. He gets pulled in, quite accidentally, into a bizarre world of murderers and Serbian gangsters. It is Coen brothers on steroids. Great, dark, and witty fun. Give it a shot on Netflix or Amazon.

There are lots of clever Swedish (the superb Wallander), Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, and Finnish police and crime dramas, which show a darker side of Scandinavian society than we are accustomed to seeing. I particularly recommend Easy Living, a Finnish Sopranos. It is a gangster show, with humor, and some biting observations on the corruption produced by socialism, and the lengths to which ordinary people go to game the system. Also Finnish and also worth viewing is Bordertown, a look at how corruption in Russia spills over into Finland: Very well written, directed, filmed, and acted.

Norway, in particular, has produced some interesting films and TV shows of late. A weird and wonderfully offbeat, but, nevertheless, thoughtful one is Occupied. This TV series concerns Russia occupying Norway at the behest of the EU! Great stuff! Never mind Trump-Putin! It is merciless with a Justin Trudeau sort of Norwegian PM who speaks only in platitudes and gets Norway out of the oil business in favor of a weird "green" science. This drives the Russians to see an opportunity to seize Norway's oil fields and take over the EU oil market. The EU is portrayed as spineless and conniving, in other words, accurately. The USA, under a President much like Obama, is also seen as dithering and lacking in resolve. The portrayal of the American Ambassador in Oslo is priceless--a gay dilettante who does not honor his promises. The series paints a picture of a gradual reawakening of Norwegian nationalism as patriots seek to drive out the Russians. Watch it.

Another very good Norwegian film from a few years ago is Max Manus: Man of War. A fairly accurate account of the extraordinary exploits of the great Norwegian anti-Nazi resistance fighter Max Manus (he is worth reading about). Again, throughout the film you see a positive portrayal of Norwegian nationalism, and an honoring of those willing to die to save their country and culture.  It is along the lines of another British-Norwegian series, Heavy Water (AKA The Saboteurs) which is again a fairly accurate account of the heroic efforts by the Norwegian resistance to sabotage German heavy water production in Norway.

Yesterday, I watched another Norwegian film about WWII titled The King's Choice. This is an extremely well-made film with excellent Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and German actors. It is the story of King Haakon's resistance to the Nazi occupation of Norway. Haakon was a very brave, honest, and interesting man. A Danish prince, he came to the Norwegian throne following the peaceful and very civilized independence of Norway from Sweden in 1905--quite a story in itself of how independent Norway immediately offered the throne first to the son of the very Swedish king from whom they had declared independence, but ended up with a Danish king and a British queen via a plebiscite: A fascinating tale of politics in early 20th century Europe. With the German occupation of Norway, Haakon refused to accept Quisling as the head of Norway's government, escaped from the Germans, and eventually made it to Britain from where he helped keep alive the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis and Quisling. Danish Haakon became a strong Norwegian patriot, and lived to see his new country liberated from the Nazis. The film is very good, with some excellent special effects, strong acting, and great attention to period detail. Watch it. All that other stuff will still be there when the movie ends.

End of digression.

28 comments:

  1. My father was Norwegian. We visited Norway for the first time in 2012. We loved it. Went on a Hurtigruten fjord cruise which was outstanding. Visited with rellies for a week afterwards. It was a wonderful trip.

    Anyone interested can read my account starting here:
    http://farcanal.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/norway-2012.html

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  2. DiploMad, thank you for this interesting summary of new Scandinavian film. But you left out the most interesting one, the Swedish film "The Square", a satire of the pretentious, silly art-world. It won the prestigious Palm D´or in the Cannes Festival 2017 and it will give it a try in the Oscars as well. I guess that Scandinavians are connected with gloom and doom and no sense of humour but it might be because we cultivate a certain introspectiveness. You don´t like Ingmar Bergman ? Have you seen " Fanny and Alexander" ? It is absolutely great, a colourful, sparkling masterpiece with great actors, like a Fellini-movie set in Sweden.
    Well, the Norwegian king escaped but the Danish king choose another way to handle the situation during the occupation. He and his family stayed and the king rode out on his horse every morning and saluted the Copenhagen- people he met. I don´t really want to write about how the Swedish royals behaved, just notice who the wife of the Crown prince was, a German princess of a certain family. However, I am a republican and happy that royals don´t matter anymore. Yes, the independence of Norway from Sweden is a fine example of politics at its best. The downside is that Swedish Alfred Nobel because of this allowed Norway to handle the Peace prize and look at the mess they made. Obama !!!!
    Swedishlady

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    1. Have not seen "The Square." I will look it up. The Kings of Norway and Denmark during WWII, of course, were brothers. The Danish King was extremely brave as well.

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    2. “The Square “ was really good. Had trouble understanding all the Danish, though��. Norwegian film that’s worth watching is “En Ganske Snill Man” also with Stellan Skarsgård. Also check out a couple of older Swedish movies- ”Tillsammans” and ”Smala Susie”, which was filmed in my mormors hometown of Bengtsfors. I think there was some kind of Swedish law that the late Mikael Nykvist was required to be in every movie!

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    3. I will check out all those films. I couldn't believe it when I read Nyqvist had died. He was very good. I also liked "Black Widows"; a Danish friend made fun of me being unable to tell when the characters were speaking Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish.

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  3. The Free Norwegian Army was based near where I grew up. One of the children at my school was said to have been a wee momento of that army. They were well liked, the Norwegians. A little further away there had been a base for French Canadian troops. They were deeply disliked: the sort of scum who would go to a Saturday night dance carrying knives.

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  4. Thanks for the diversion. I've been looking for some new things to watch.

    I did see the first season of Occupied and really enjoyed it. One note though, my understanding is that in that series, the US had achieved energy independence and no longer needed, or was concerned with, the oil and had basically removed itself from European politics. That is why it was sort of satisfying with the Trudeau-like PM assumed the US would come to their rescue and the Ambassador shut him down, it was very satisfying to see the realization hit him that he was screwed because (much like a teenager) the big, bad US wouldn't bail him out again.

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  5. I recommend "Lilyhammer". It takes place in Lillehammer, Norway. A NY mobster moves there under the witness protection program. Watch Frank Tagliano (played by E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt) discover charming Norwegian customs and conundrums, and apply Brooklyn solutions to them.

    He counsels a lost sheep:
    https://youtu.be/bfRgVbp9gSY?t=69

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  6. Speaking of foreign things, this gem of "State Department humour" just arrived in my mailbox.

    "Donald Trump goes on a fact finding visit to Israel. While he is on a tour of Jerusalem he suffers a heart attack and dies.

    The Undertaker tells the State Department officials accompanying him, "You can have him shipped home for $50,000, or you can bury him here, in the Holy Land, for $100."

    The Americans go into a corner and confer for a few minutes. They come back to the undertaker and tell him they want him shipped home. The undertaker is puzzled and asks, "Why would you spend $50,000 to ship him home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here, and you would only spend $100?"

    The Americans reply, "Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. We just can't take that risk."

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    1. Love it! Consider it stolen!

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    2. I was sure that was going to be the old joke about cloth for a suit (told about Henry Kissinger; he has some nice cloth he's like made into a suit, but tailors in Europe and America both tell him there's not enough material. An Israeli tailor takes on the job, and whips together a suit that fits Kissinger perfectly. He wonders why and is told that in Israel, he's a smaller man).

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    3. That joke is so old, it has whiskers.

      I first heard it years ago, and it had an elderly Jewish couple who wanted to visit Israel before they died.

      In this version, the wife died and the husband made the same decision.

      It was the sort of joke Henny Youngman might have told off-stage, but not in public. Rodney Dangerfield, on the other hand, could have made it part of his show.

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    4. Well, it may be old, but, hey; it's a long way down-under.

      Like a lot of good (old) jokes, the names(and places), sort-of as per "Dragnet", are changed to protect the "innocent".

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    5. They told it back when De Gaulle was Pres of France. When he's making plans for his ultimate demise, they're offering either Les INvalides in Paris or the Israeli offer of the Holy Sepulchre. Re the first, De Gaulle sneers that Napoleon was a mere Corsican, and at the latter because the Israeli asking price is too high for just three days.

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    6. During a Parliamentary debate on military spending and preparedness, Churchill told the story of a elderly woman who had taken a cruise to Argentina, but died shortly after arriving. When her daughter, the closet living relative, was notified and asked how she wanted the remains handled, her husband took over and sent back, "EMBALM STOP CREMATE STOP BURY AT SEA STOP TAKE NO CHANCES STOP"

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    7. Which should be standing orders for Hillary's remains, come to think of it.

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  7. I approve of Norwegians, for some reason. Probably an Olson thing.

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    1. Min Mor, Gud hvile henne, ver en Norske jente.

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  8. Thank you for the great information. I have been reading many authors from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and quite appreciate their work. I've also been seeking out the shows made about the books. Once again, thank you.

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  9. If you are a fan of Skarsgård he is also in a recent Netflix Original, “River”, where he plays a London detective with an unusual mental problem. The plot revolves around his trying to solve the murder of his female partner, who was killed before his eyes in a drive-by shooting. He is excellent in the role.

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  10. On one of those interminable long flights, I ended up watching a Norwegian movie about saving the king's illegitimate son during Norway's 13th Century civil wars. Quite entertaining -- rather like a Western set in snow, with opponents who would have been quite happy wearing white & black hats. Interesting point was that, as far as I could tell from the credits, most of the snow scenes were shot in Poland. Maybe Norwegian snow is too expensive?

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  11. Title of that historical movie was Birkebeiner.

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Dip, when I was a youngster, I saw this short film "De Duva [The Dove]", which parodies Bergmann in dialect such as you'd hear from Minnesotan great-grandparents. Since you're not much of a Bergmann fan, you'd probably like it. The only problem with it is that certain characters should say "Ishtaa!" at certain junctures.

    Unfortunately, I can't copy and paste the link, but you can look it up on You Tube.



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  14. You might enjoy 'Comrade Detective' on Prime. It's a re-discovered Rumanian cop series that was re-mastered and dubbed into English. ;-)

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