Brilliantly, the shorts selection encompasses all five Nordic countries: Denmark; Finland; Iceland; Norway; and Sweden. These entries pair fantastically to paint broader image, where communication has failed, family has left, and personal discovery is the final recourse. They share a common bond in a shared anxiety of being left behind. Together, none of these smart filmmakers can be left behind. They’re bonded by a greater overarching culture and prove a sharp template for the Nordic short film.
A Worthy Man (En værdig mand)
Erik wants to have a laugh. He wants to elicit an emotional response, any response, from his own family. Every night while he prepares work at his bakery, he listens to a radio show called The Radio Drill Night Goof, where callers give their best one-liners. He tries some on with his kids. “How do you help a starving Cannibal? You give him a hand.” His daughter stares in apparent apathy, funnier than him because she paints her face like she’s joining the KISS Circus. His frigid relationship and emasculating failures as the family storyteller drive him a bit mad. His jokes make him a grotesque. He wears a bit of dough over his head with eye holes and has a breakdown. The clown is always sad. “What does the horse head say to the other horse head in the freezer box? Brrr.”
Assuredly not about the fast food chain that piles on a heaping of extra cheap meat. Stark as it is visually arresting, Árbi is a concept picture. It’s about a woman abandoning her headdress in the wilderness. That is all it shows but not all it is. The washed out palettes and bold choice to go very short speak to the project’s motives. It wants to create a thought bubble floating over our heads at the cinema that might say, “why was the short presented this way and how can I process that?” Sometimes a lingering question is more than an answer.
The title is ironic. Super Comfort is very uncomfortable. An aging mother wonders if she’ll live to see grandchildren as her husband farts around (literally the first line of dialogue is about him decimating the bathroom), more interested in his new copying machine than her. (He can even print while out on the deck, isn’t technology something.) When their son returns home for dinner, his mother overcompensates, trying to fill the hole of her own loneliness with dozens of baked goods. She cannot cook happiness. Instead, she finds it at the mall (can you imagine?) while getting a little self-care, trying on the titular face cream – which solves all her problems, makes her son love her, allows her the freedom that only age and experience can afford? Unclear, as it then cuts to credits.
Three Men (þrir men)
The evening’s finest example of show don’t tell, which is the technique at the crux of any successful short. There is not enough time to tell. The story starts looking down the barrel of a gun (literally). He’s gonna shoot his brother? No, it’s a game, but he probably shouldn’t point guns he doesn’t want to shoot. It eventually goes off anyway in the direction of the younger kid, giving the entire theater a collective heart attack. The gasps were super loud and as amplified as the report of the rifle. Good family drama with clear messaging, as our set of bachelors (a father, and his two boys), learn the value of hard work and what it means to look out for each other. My favorite of the evening due to expert cinematography pulling us into the region (ideally a set of regional shorts does just this), while also delivering the biggest emotional gut punch of the festival.
Things We Don’t Talk About (Det vi ikke snakker om)
One half of the year’s Sámi representation (see below for the other half) strikes an emotional chord. Several people around me choked through tears as the young main character battled with his sense of responsibility for the death of his mother in a crash, which has also left him disabled and needing rehab. It’s a difficult look at grieving in our youth that had a profound effect on the audience.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Fish (Guolleságat)
A Raymond Carver story played out in Norwegian tradition. Both entrants from Norway cover representation for the Sámi people at Nordic Lights. Like many of this year’s selections, this short is about a communication breakdown. Much like Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, it is interested in the sociology of the short story. The women in this family debate whether the fish in their lake are trout or salmon and whether people are even distinct, since they have all come from Africa.
Foggy Days (Dimmiga dagar)
He only wants her. She wants to live freely and explore the world, and other people. Ideally this is not a central conflict, but it’s what the plot turns on. Neither will get what they want in the end. The shots in bed are all right, emotionally intense and honest. It doesn’t come across as well as you’d hope in translation. The only entry not to receive applause. I gather that the audience was confused, from the people I talked to, it was unclear what they were meant to get from the project. I’d tend to agree.
All together, these Nordic Shorts express the importance of community. They establish that even when we are left behind, those who stay make us who we are. Family is crucial and saves us from ourselves, even when we tell bad jokes. Sometimes we have to leave the community and the headdress behind. Perhaps the answer is found in a mall and self care will do. Ultimately these are stories of togetherness and the consequences of our relations and sometimes our inability to relate. These entries are as hearty and hardy as the talented Nordic filmmakers that poured their passion into creating them.