Nordic Lights Film Festival 2021: Nordic Shorts

Our coverage of the Nordic Lights Film Festival kicks off with eight signature Nordic creations. These slices of cinema create a broad portrait of what a Nordic film can be. At the end of a relationship, a woman embraces the End Times. A man evades the police in a swimming pool. Whatever happened to Pippi Longstocking after the stories ended? A radio DJ embraces the End Times. Animated neighbors delight with the quirky eccentricities of everyday life. A family grieves and finds acceptance through the artifacts left behind. COVID is still a thing. The soul of the land is expunged through lovely music. It takes all kinds, and this shorts block has a little Nordic Light for everyone.

Last Dance (Síðasti dansinn)

Last Dance (Síðasti dansinn). Dir. Ása Hjörleifsdóttir.

Real depression hours. A couple wakes up and realizes it’s the end for them. In their nihilistic flight from life, from themselves, from the impending end of all things, they run from fate. They take to their car and drive down the Icelandic shoreside. She turns the radio on. Jules Verne said the access point to the center of the Earth could be found in Icelandic glaciers. The glaciers are all melting now, the radio says. The couple ruminate on the meaningless infrastructure of the roadways. It’s all about to end now. They pull off by the shore and lose one another. Through a tiny crack in the rock mountain of the hillside, she sees something. And then it is all over.

Swimmer (Badaren)

Swimmer (Badaren). Dir. Jonatan Etzler.

Ever had to get children out of a pool? It’s the damndest thing. There is nowhere more difficult to extract them from. Their two most dramatic exits in life: from the womb and the swimming pool. That’s how it goes in Swimmer. A hit and run suspect is identified by his car outside a swimming center. The police try to intervene but he refuses to leave the pool. Five hours pass and he still refuses. Clever underwater photography and perspective shots make this a nice short film based on a funny true story. The Swedish production plays carefully with the space and coloring of the pool to create interesting framing. Very well made and much like a child in the pool, we may not want to get out after just 13 minutes.

Whatever Happened to Ms. Longstocking (Valla Villekulla)

Whatever Happened to Ms. Longstocking (Valla Villekulla). Dir. Jimmy Olsson.

“It’s important to remember the forgotten and bring it to light again,” says director Jimmy Olsson, posing as an investigative journalist. Whatever Happened to Ms. Longstocking (originally titled Valla Villekulla, named after the great fictional house that had a soda tree growing outside), is a short form faux-documentary. Olsson is primed to crack the case, if anyone were, showing up in his Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996) leather jacket. While he has some fun with the presentation, it’s too vaguely formed and the actors are unconvincing in their silly portrayals, with us left wishing it had anything like the spirit of the great Swedish children’s story. For now, it has the problem of making 15 minutes feel long.

I’m Listening (Kuuntelen)

I’m Listening (Kuuntelen). Dir. Katja Korhonen.

Our second film about the imminent end of all life. Someone please check on our directors. This one takes cues from the marvelous Woman at War (2019), where the callers of the radio show are presented diegetically — when they call into the show, they exist as solid forms within the studio. When the show cuts to music, a band plays in the studio. It’s a neat one-trick film that way. Anxiety mounts as we shift through callers, until a final caller predicts the end of the world. It’s a briefly interesting take, with strange set design, and peculiar choices for its actors. I hope that all of our directors have a better day soon and create something else.

Yes People (Já-Fólkið)

Yes People (Já-Fólkið). Dir. Gísli Darri Halldórsson.

Gísli Darri Halldórsson’s indelible Icelandic short is such a delight I watched it not once, not twice, but thrice. It exists within the ho-hum macro level of existence. It explores singular moments of existence, shared by roly-poly neighbors of an apartment complex. It’s about the intricacies and the funny difficulties of just getting along together. Each character has their eccentricities. A lonely housewife smokes and detoxes from alcohol in an armchair, sat in front of a wedding portrait of happier times. Her husband has a grumbly tummy and stuffs his face with cookies to satiate his despair and watches tv loudly, so as not to talk to his wife. A young boy struggles to stay awake for his studies and we later find it’s due to his late night videogaming habits; meanwhile, his mother stays home suffering through teaching screeching clarinet lessons. Another lady sits waiting for her husband while he shovels snow, engrossed in a book of Marcel Proust, until he comes home and they furiously fornicate, and then she breaks into opera, much to the despair of her neighbors. Each are delightfully connected in this wordless snowy day tale of a neighborhood, recently shortlisted at the Oscars.

Distance & Longing (Fravær og længsel)

Distance & Longing (Fravær og længsel). Dir. Mikkel Warrer.

All that’s left behind is a camera. A camera, a father, and a son. With the matriarch of the household deceased, two men are left alone, together. They try their best to get by. Nothing fills the empty hole of absence. Then the boy finds his mother’s camera. Pieces of her are left behind. He takes up her hobby of shooting and a part of her lives on in him. In this Danish story of bonding and overcoming the hurdle of grief, everything plays a bit too small on the screen, for the bigness of the suggested emotions. The short is not quite there but is playing with strong ideas, that could lead somewhere else, given more space and opportunity for the characters to establish themselves. We only know what she meant because she is gone. When we’re all grieving distance and longing to be together again, a missed opportunity for a little more intrigue, here.

COVID Side Effects (Covida buriid ja bahás beivviid)

COVID Side Effects (Covida buriid ja bahás beivviid). Dir. Sara Margrethe Oskal.

This is where I throw my hands up and pray to the gods of the Æsir and Vanir to end my suffering.

Everything is Alive (Buot Ealla)

Everything is Alive (Buot Ealla). Dir. Kajsa Balto.

What collection of Nordic films could be complete without a lovely Sámi-made picture, celebrating the tradition of the land, and how we are all connected? Everything is Alive is born from the soul of the dirt. It’s a meditative music video which celebrates the land through song and time-lapse photography. Concise and effective, a musical connection to the soul of the territory itself is just the right way to end the programming.

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