Few moviegoing phenomena are as viscerally pleasure-inducing as the surprise of discovery. That’s what the Nordic Lights Film Festival delivers. The weeklong series beginning Friday at St. Anthony Main is an eye-opening tour of contemporary Scandinavian filmmaking, some area debuts, some briefly glimpsed on local festival and art-house screens, and all a far cry from the austere dramas of old. If you think of the region as a bland haven of carbon-neutral kindergartens, chunky snowflake sweaters and plywood-tasting crispbreads, brace yourself for a kick in the zeitgeist.
Take “Klown,” showing opening night and Tuesday, which festival director Kari Lie calls “a phenomenally raunchy comedy.” It comes from Denmark, one of the more sexually liberated nations on Earth, and when these guys make a sex comedy, they make a sex comedy. A blond-haired, blue-eyed cousin of the “Hangover” films, it’s one of the most hilariously damning portraits of the male of the species imaginable. Hapless Frank (Frank Hvam) and his cocksure best frenemy, Casper (Casper Christensen), set off on a men-only canoe weekend. What Frank’s girlfriend and Casper’s wife don’t know is that their real destination is a country mansion where a wealthy friend hosts an annual orgy. At the last moment Frank, hoping to impress his dubious sweetheart that he has great parenting potential, takes along his 13-year-old nephew, creating absurd and achingly funnny complications.
“ ‘Klown’ is not a film I would recommend my mother see, as she would not appreciate the absurdity of any of the situations these two idiotic Danes find themselves in,” said Lie, who teaches Norwegian language and Nordic film studies at St. Olaf College. But her students and friends would find it uproarious, she added, inviting those of milder tastes to “check out one of our more serious films.”
We’ll get to those. But first, let’s celebrate some shamelessly entertaining entries. The festival offers a return engagement for one of 2012’s best thrillers, “Headhunters,” showing Saturday and Tuesday. This Norwegian nail-biter, based on the work of bestselling crime novelist Jo Nesbo, combines the relentless action and edginess of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” with a ferociously wicked sense of humor. Our charming scoundrel of an antihero is Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a short man in a country of tall men. He overcompensates with his statuesque wife, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), and an expensive lifestyle that he supports through a secret sideline as an art thief. Morten Tyldum’s direction is ferociously slick and the actors are top-notch, even Lund, a Norwegian film critic who had never acted before. She is surely the world’s most beautiful film critic.
“Turn Me On, Dammit!” (Saturday and Monday) is a breezy, richly characterized take on the high-school sex farce. Stuck in a Norwegian podunk, pretty, dateless Alma (Helene Bergsholm) has her eye on a dreamboat classmate, but her fumbling attempts to land him result in her being branded the town’s bad girl. The film accepts the increasingly humiliating scrapes Alma gets herself into with affectionate, good-natured incredulity.
Now about those serious offerings. Longtime Swedish film star Pernilla August makes a smashing directorial debut in the Swedish-Finnish co-production “Beyond” (Saturday and Tuesday). Noomi Rapace and Outi Maenpaa tear up the screen as a tense, controlling woman and her long-absent alcoholic mother. Flashbacks to life in a 1970s Swedish apartment complex are naturalistic yet tinged with menace. The film dispenses information about their poisoned relationship by the teaspoon, keeping us on edge with dread that something awful is about to unfold. It’s as much a mystery as a riveting family drama.
“Teddy Bear” (Sunday) features an affecting, understated performance by Danish bodybuilding champ Kim Kold as a timid giant. Browbeaten by his domineering mother, he travels to Thailand in search of a wife, but finds himself out of his league among the worldly candidates he meets. The character study evolves into a tender love story when he encounters an unlikely soulmate.
Iceland’s 2012 Oscar entry “Volcano” (Sunday and Wednesday) is a chilly “Amour,” focusing on an authoritarian retired school principal (Theodor Juliusson) hoping to repair his relationships with his wife and resentful grown children.
For ticketing and a full schedule of features and shorts, visit www. mspfilmsociety.org.