Best In The World: Denmark

What’s this? Another member of staff on Ross v Ross? No recession here. Diffference is, this guy actually knows what he’s talking about. Introducing Lord Ian O’Itall, who is going to tell you the definitive best five films from every single country on the planet, starting with the great Danes…

The Best Danish Films by Lord Ian O’Itall

No, it’s not all porn (although from the 60s to the 80s that’s what it mostly consisted of). The Danes were actually one of the first nations to start film production, in 1906, but a few classics from Carl Dreyer aside, cinema was rotten in the state of Denmark, until the 1980s that is, when decent Danish directors started to emerge again and decided to mix up a little drama with their bold sexual imagery and no-holds-barred nudity, and now there’s a whole host of them plying their trade across the world. With an emphasis on brilliant drama and strong acting, they’ve made some great films – it’s worth noting how many have been remade by Hollywood since – here is a little selection.

5. After The Wedding (Efter Bryllupet), 2006

It might start slowly but this drama by Susanne Bier about a Danish missionary at an Indian orphanage, asked to return to Denmark to collect a donation and suddenly finding himself at a wedding with some familiar guests, gets very intriguing very quickly. With the help of some great acting from Sidse Babett Knudsen and good ol’ Mads Mikkelsen (seen lately as Draco in the Clash Of The Titans remake), it really grabs hold of your lapels, drags you through the nuptials and carries you gobsmacked to the end, with more twists than a Chubby Checker setlist. It was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, deservedly, but lost out to The Lives Of Others, which in fairness, not many films could complain about. Of course having had her impressively tense drama Brødre remade and ruined as Brothers, Bier will now see this classic given the Hollywood treatment as the English language version is in production as we speak, starring Tom Wilkinson and Camilla Belle.

4. Kingdom (Riget), 1994

Ok, so it’s not really a film, more an 8-episode mini-series shown on Danish TV, but if we’re not counting any of Lars Von Trier’s English-language films it’s only fair to allow this one. Set in a hospital built on dubious spiritual ground, it is spooky, surreal, and scarier than Prince Hamlet’s psychiatry bill, something along the lines of Coma meets Northern Exposure via Twin Peaks – only, David Lynch wishes he was this weird. Ghostly ambulances that turn up every night whet the appetite for some far scarier sights, none more so than the ghost of the little girl with the bell in the elevator shaft – the first time you see her is a pantshitter moment. It’s long, sometimes corny, sometimes downright strange, but the whole thing is so gripping you will probably watch it straight through because you just won’t want to leave the story until you find out how the horribly unsettling finally gets horribly settled. What’s weird about it is that the film also seems to have its own curse. Five regular cast members, including the lead, Swede Ernst-Hugo Järegård , died within four years of making it, while Lars Von Trier has to live with the memory of making Dogville. A curse indeed. It was of course bludgeoned out of all recognition by Stephen King in an American remake. How does that man sleep at night?

3. Day Of Wrath (Vredens Dag), 1943

Ok, so a black and white foreign film from the 1940s may smack of pretention, but Carl Dreyer is pretty much the Daddy of Danish film and this horrifying drama about a medieval witch hunt is probably his best work. After his own ‘sojourn amongst the Philistines’ in Hollywood he returned to Denmark and made this beautifully shot film at a time when his home country was under Nazi German rule. It’s about paranoia, religious superstition, adultery, and those old nuggets secrecy and betrayal, so the parallels with Nazism are there for all to see, but what really stands out is the way in which each scene looks like a Rembrandt painting that has come to life. It’s sombre and slow-moving, and compared to the Danish films of the last two decades it might seem a little rigid, but it’s a true golden oldie. As with almost every Danish film of note, it has been remade and ruined by Hollywood, made in 2006 and starring none other than that French ham artist Christopher Lambert.

2. Babette’s Feast (Babettes Gaestebud), 1988

Music is not the food of love. Food is. And this film by Gabriel Axel from the novel by Karen Blixen of Out Of Africa fame proves it. No matter how many times I see it, I am still overawed by the creation of something so sumptuous against a backdrop that is so sparse. Touching, thoughtful and sweet, it’s a celebration through food of the sheer generosity people are sometimes capable of, dished out in hearty mouthfuls and with no artificial sweeteners. Quite frankly it mops the floor with the insubstantial French fancy creampuff follies like Amelie and her ilk. The best thing about it is that it somehow makes a stunningly beautiful film out of what is essentially somebody making the dinner. 

1. The Celebration (Festen), 1998

It’s really saying something when a film about incestuous sexual abuse of children and suicide is probably the least shocking and offensive of the Dogme 95 films. It was made under the strict rules of the radical foursome of directors who attempted to make new guidelines for the sake of cinematic purity (or get themselves a nice bit of publicity before they even started making a film). The first, and best, film to come out of that somewhat self-defeating stable of directors who experimented with sparsity, lack of lighting, artificial effects or editing, forced director Thomas Vinterberg to produce a film fastened tightly to its story and characters, and boy does it deliver. The 60th birthday party of a wealthy patriarch held at the family’s sprawling hotel filled with the ghosts of past sins descends into a nightmare when the eldest son makes an unforgettable speech – but is he telling the truth? As the horrifying truth slowly comes out, we are left as shocked and uncomfortably numb as the extras sitting in as party guests, who were not told what was in the script so that the looks on their faces would be genuine. And yet, it’s uplifting, in a strange sort of way. It’s a stunning piece of film that tried to do something new and got it right first time. It hasn’t (yet) been remade by Hollywood, but probably because it has been successfully adapted for the stage and has been performed in roughly 20 languages to date.

Watch the clip – but only as far as 3min16seconds, because after that the outcome will be given away.


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10 Responses to “Best In The World: Denmark”

  1. Dammit, I’ve been meaning to see all these for ages now. I am so behind on all things Danish.

  2. Love After the Wedding. Haven’t seen any of the other ones but since they are ranked higher, you definitely peeked my interest. Great concept for multiple posts!

  3. welcome Lord Ian, and thanks for a cracking post. way better than the usual guff you get round here…
    watched the first 3m16 of that Festen clip – man, i have to see this movie.
    have always liked Denmark since they won the European Championships in ’92.
    looking forward to your next country….

  4. I have a tenner on Denmark to reach the World Cup final at 66/1!
    And Ivory Coast.
    Lord Ian, I think you should do Ivory Coast next

  5. lordianoitall Says:

    thanks folks for the glowing praise. ross, i won’t be doing ivory coast next, but it will be a country who got to the semi finals of the world cup in the last 8 years…

  6. As an ardent Von Trier Fanboy (other than Antichrist) I really should have seen Kingdom by now. Your write-up has inspired me to chuck this on the amazon wish-list for sure.

    Good article and great writing. Look forward to seeing more from the lord.

  7. No PUSHER???

  8. lordianoitall Says:

    aye, no pusher – a tough call – it would be in my top ten but just got pushed out by after the wedding

  9. Wasn’t the original Insomnia Danish?

  10. lordianoitall Says:

    Nope, Fitz, it was Norwegian. It may make my top five for that country, but it is up against some very tough opposition

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