A film feast from the great Danes

BEIRUT: In the hundred odd years since the first Danish film – photographer Peter Elfelt’s 1897 one-minute documentary “Travelling with Greenlandic Dogs” – Danish cinema has come on in leaps and bounds.

This week the Metropolis Cinema Sofil is celebrating the diverse achievements of Denmark’s directors with a seven-night festival entitled “Danish feast: A taste of classic and contemporary film makers.”

The selection is eclectic, spanning a wide range of genres and several decades, though for the most part serving up one of the better known films from each of the seven directors showcased. The lineup includes three classic films, two contemporary numbers and two feature documentaries.

The festival kicks off with part of a trilogy by Lars von Trier, famous for his avant-garde technique and his work on the Dogme 95 movement which aimed to simplify filmmaking. The film on show is not Von Trier’s most recent offering, “Melancholia,” released last year, but a far older work – the final film in his Europe trilogy, “Europa” (1991).

Set in Germany, just after World War II, “Europa” follows Leo (Jean-Marc Barr), a young American of German descent, when he takes a job on a sleeper train. Leo tries to remain neutral but soon finds himself caught between the Americans and an underground Nazi gang known as the Werewolves. When Leo falls in love with the train company owner’s daughter, he is faced with some difficult choices.

Thursday night brings us forward in time to 2010 with “Submarino,” a tale of two estranged brothers directed by Thomas Vinterberg, a co-founder of the Dogme 95 movement, along with Von Trier.

“Submarino” explores family relationships through the story of Nick (Jakob Cedergren) and his little brother, raised by their alcoholic mother and divided by tragedy. Years later, Nick – now an alcoholic ex-con – and his nameless younger brother – a junkie single-parent who deals drugs for the money to feed his son – meet again.

Friday’s showing promises to inject some political history into the weekend with “President,” Christoffer Gulbrandsen’s 2011 documentary about the reluctant first president of Europe, related by current and former heads of state. Gulbrandsen described the film as an insight into “a humorous and grotesque world,” likening it to an “academic reality TV show.”

Saturday’s feature moves from contemporary back to classic with director Gabriel Axel’s best-known film, the Oscar-winning “Babette’s Feast” (1987), based on a novel by Isak Dinesen. Set in 19th century Denmark, the film recounts the tale of two adult sisters who live with their father, the village pastor.

The pair agrees to take in a French refugee, Babette, who is fleeing the 1871 Commune of Paris uprising. When Babette comes into some money she insists on cooking up a lavish feast for the puritanical sisters and a group of amazed local villagers.

The Cannes Grand Prize winning documentary “Armadillo” (2010) by Janus Metz will be playing Sunday – a war drama shot over a period of six months in Helmand, a province in southern Afghanistan. Metz traveled to the region with a group of Danish soldiers, repeatedly risking his life to film gun battles between Danish and Taliban troops.

The result is a tense, insightful exploration of the psychology of warfare, which charts the increasing cynicism, paranoia and adrenaline addiction among the young Danish soldiers slated to help the Afghan troops. The film provoked furious debate in the filmmaker’s homeland as a result of the behavior of the soldiers it documents.

A true classic is scheduled for Monday night. The oldest film included in the program, Henning Carlsen’s black and white feature “Hunger” (1966) is a socio-realistic drama about Pontus (Per Oscarsson), a penniless poet.

Based on a novel by Knut Hamsun, the plot centers around Pontus’ unfortunate combination of pride and poverty, which renders him desperate for money but unwilling to accept an advance from the newspaper to which he wishes to submit an article.

Set in Oslo in 1890, the film delves into the mental world of the starving young poet. Evicted from his home he wanders the streets, his hunger causing him to lose track of what is real and what is imaginary, until the boundaries between fact and fiction become little more than a blur.

The festival closes on Oct. 2 with Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Valhalla Rising” (2010). One of Refn’s more recent films – though set in the year 1000 A.D. – the plot centers on One Eye, a mute Viking warrior with supernatural strength.

One Eye is being held captive by Barde, a Norse chieftain, but escapes with the help of Are, a boy slave. The two sail away on a Viking ship into the darkness of a mysterious mist only to find, when it clears, that they have reached a new world where a bloody fate awaits them.

The wide range of films on show should ensure that there is something to appeal to every palate. Film buffs will find the selection overall a comprehensive introduction to seven of Denmark’s key directors and a fitting tribute to Danish cinema’s output over the past three decades.

“Danish Feast: A taste of classic and contemporary film makers” is running at Metropolis Empire Sofil until Oct. 2. All films are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., cost LL5,000 and feature English audio or subtitles. For more information, please visit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 26, 2012, on page 16.




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