Feeling like diving into a Nordic film for this evening’s movie session? I’ve got you. As a Swedish film nerd who has spent 3 decades scouring through and watching hundreds upon hundreds of Nordic movies, I can probably save you some time in your own search.
You might be interested in exploring the world of Nordic films, but not entirely sure which ones are worth watching. In that case, I’ve compiled my all-time favorites in this extremely geeky list of the best Nordic movies of all time.
So if you’re looking for some quality movie tips from the lands of Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier, Jan Troell, and Susanne Bier — you’re in the right place.
- Fanny & Alexander (1982) 🇸🇪 9.1/10
- The Emigrants + The New Land (1971, 1972) 🇸🇪 8.6/10
- Persona (1966) 🇸🇪 8.6/10
- The Hunt (2012) 🇩🇰 8.5/10
- Let the Right One In (2008) 🇸🇪 8.4/10
- The Celebration (1998) 🇩🇰 8.4/10
- Autumn Sonata (1978) 🇸🇪 8.4/10
- The Guilty (2018) 🇩🇰 8.3/10
- A Swedish Love Story (1970) 🇸🇪 8.3/10
- Oslo, August 31st (2011) 🇳🇴 8.2/10
- Raven's End (1963) 🇸🇪 8.1/10
- Songs From the Second Floor (2000) 🇸🇪 8.1/10
- The Man Without a Past (2002) 🇫🇮 8.1/10
- After the Wedding (2006) 🇩🇰 8.0/10
- Land of Mine (2015) 🇩🇰 8.0/10
- Troubled Water (2008) 🇳🇴 8.0/10
- Open Hearts (2002) 🇩🇰 8.0/10
- Show Me Love (1998) 🇸🇪 7.9/10
- Everlasting Moments (2008) 🇸🇪 7.9/10
- Riders of Justice (2020) 🇩🇰 7.9/10
- Brothers (2004) 🇩🇰 7.9/10
- In China They Eat Dogs (1999) 🇩🇰 7.8/10
- A Man Called Ove (2015) 🇸🇪 7.8/10
- Force Majeure (2014) 🇸🇪 7.8/10
- In a Better World (2010) 🇩🇰 7.7/10
- As It Is in Heaven (2004) 🇸🇪 7.7/10
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) 🇸🇪 7.7/10
- Border (2018) 🇸🇪 7.7/10
- Submarino (2010) 🇩🇰 7.7/10
- A Royal Affair (2012) 🇩🇰 7.7/10
- Pusher (1996) 🇩🇰 7.6/10
- The Square (2017) 🇸🇪 7.5/10
- The "Mods" Trilogy (1968, 1979, 1993) 🇸🇪 7.5/10
- Screwed in Tallinn (1999) 🇸🇪 7.5/10
- Unknown Soldier (2017) 🇫🇮 7.4/10
- Involuntary (2010) 🇸🇪 7.4/10
- Mother of Mine (2005) 🇫🇮 7.4/10
- Flickering Lights (2000) 🇩🇰 7.2/10
- Adam's Apples (2005) 🇩🇰 7.2/10
- Department Q (2013-2022) 🇩🇰 7.1/10
- Trollhunter (2010) 🇳🇴 7.1/10
- Easy Money (2010) 🇸🇪 7.0/10
- Häjyt (1999) 🇫🇮 6.8/10
Fanny & Alexander (1982) 🇸🇪 9.1/10
Watch the trailer for “Fanny & Alexander” above
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Bertil Guve, Börje Ahlstedt, Kristina Adolphson, Pernilla Allwin
Synopsis: It is the beginning of the 20th century. In a small Swedish town, we follow the Ekdahl family, dominated by a rich and talented widow and her three sons. The son Oscar runs the local theatre with his wife Emelie. The couple also have two children; Fanny and Alexander. When Oscar suffers an early death, his widow marries the town bishop and moves with the children to his spartan and austere home. There a whole new life awaits Fanny and Alexander, filled with sorrow, joy, light & darkness.
Why is Fanny & Alexander worth watching?
“Fanny and Alexander” is a wonderfully creepy tale told through the eyes of two Swedish children, with both frightening and loving characters that are guaranteed to etch themselves into your memory.
With his signature story-telling and dialogue, Bergman along with his trusty right-hand-man Sven Nykvist make the three hours of “Fanny & Alexander” go by faster than you’d think, and although the movie doesn’t include much comedy or easily digested parts, it’s not really as heavy as some of his other movies are.
As expected from the sheer quality of the cast, the acting is superb and all the actors contribute to the overall quality and success of the film.
As a testament to this, “Fanny and Alexander” won four Oscars when it premiered in 1983 (though it came out in 1982 in Sweden), which perhaps wasn’t unexpected given Bergman’s status in the movie industry, and the theatric characteristics of the movie.
After all, with the grandiose sets, beautiful costumes, lovely music, and impeccable masks and wigs — it would be hard for the academy to overlook.
Still, “Fanny and Alexander” is a fairly Easy film to watch by Bergman’s standards, which is likely why critics and viewers alike have rated it so highly over the years.
The Emigrants + The New Land (1971, 1972) 🇸🇪 8.6/10
Watch the trailer for “The Emigrants” above
Director: Jan Troell
Starring: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman, Eddie Axberg
Synopsis: Jan Troell retells Vilhelm Moberg’s suite of novels about Karl Oskar and Kristina. About starvation in Sweden and dreams of America, and the journey there, to the promised land. The film opens with a few words from Troell.
Why are The Emigrants & The New Land worth watching?
These two movies are definitely my personal top picks on this list, and are based on Vilhelm Moberg’s classic book series published between 1949 and 1959. Together, they offer a gripping account of a group of Swedish emigrants’ journey to America in the mid-19th century.
It’s ultimately a timeless story for humanity as a whole, and a beautiful description of our instinctive need to look for greener pastures by means of migrating to new lands. With the recent migration crises and wars in mind, it adds an extra perspective to a story that is already strong on its own.
The Småland farmer Karl-Oskar Nilsson is masterfully portrayed by the legendary Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, The Seventh Seal, Game of Thrones), as he takes over the family farm with his beloved Kristina, a role Norwegian Liv Ullman (Autumn Sonata, Persona) is surprisingly convincing in.
As with so many Europeans at the time, poor harvests make it difficult for the ever-growing family to put food on the table, forcing them to look for a better life elsewhere. America’s fertile soil and nearly endless and free acres of land beckon, and Karl Oscar and Kristina ultimately see no other option but to embark upon the great and perilous journey for the good of their family.
Kristina’s religious uncle Danjel (Allan Edwall) and her friend Ulrika (Monica Zetterlund), accompany them on their journey in order to escape the oppression of the Swedish church. They are also joined by Karl-Oscar’s brother Robert and his friend Arvid, who both dream of Californian gold.
The films employed 20 actors and 500 extras, with a combined cost of SEK 7 million, making them the most expensive Swedish film produced at the time.
Liv Ullman on working with Max von Sydow and Ingmar Bergman on Utvandrarna (1971) and Nybyggarna (1972)
Persona (1966) 🇸🇪 8.6/10
Watch the trailer for “Persona” above
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann
Synopsis: After a performance of “Elektra”, the great actress Elisabeth Vogler has suddenly stopped speaking. Otherwise perfectly healthy, she has chosen to go into silence. She doesn’t answer questions or addresses, silence is her mask. Together with a nurse, Sister Alma, she settles in an isolated cottage on an island. The two women grow closer, and an intimate relationship develops between them, so intimate that their identities begin to drift toward and into each other.
Why is Persona worth watching?
This is another Bergman film with superb and clever cinematography by Sven Nykvist, offering viewers lots of their trademark close-ups in beautiful environments.
The main characters are the actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullman) and Alma (Bibi Andersson), with Vogler for some unexplained reason suddenly unable to speak. The nurse Alma accompanies her to rehab out on Bergman’s favorite spot in Sweden; Fårö.
The plot is complicated and intense, to say the least, and is definitely open to your own interpretations and thoughts throughout.
Nowadays it’s of course extremely easy to get the common interpretations explained to you with a few quick Google searches, but it’s well-worth to contemplate a bit on your own before you do so.
A film like Persona is definitely not for lazy viewers, as I feel like Bergman leaves a blank space of interpretation for you very much on purpose.
That said, in its essence the film offers a fairly basic premise; A patient, a diagnosis, a nurse, a cottage on an island, a sexual anecdote, a letter, a visit, and a Swedish autumn.
But as basic as the premise might be, the surreal montages, meta-perspectives of the director and photographer, and monologues that no one asked for will still leave you without any clear answers — just a ton of questions.
Are Elisabet and Alma the same person? Or has Alma been influenced by Elisabet so much that they’ve fused into the same persona? Or are we dealing with some psychoanalytical wet dream of Bergman’s? Or maybe he was just drunk when he wrote it?
I think we all have to decide that for ourselves in the end. Or, you know, let others do it for us by Googling it. 😉
The Hunt (2012) 🇩🇰 8.5/10
Watch a clip from “The Hunt” above
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp
Synopsis: In a small Danish town around Christmas, we follow 40-year-old Lucas. After a tough divorce, he has a new girlfriend, a new job and is well on his way to rebuilding his relationship with his teenage son Marcus. But something goes wrong. A random lie. Soon the lie spreads like a virus and the small community suddenly finds itself in a state of collective hysteria, all while Lucas struggles to keep his life and dignity. A contemporary tale of witch-hunting, injustice, guilt and forgiveness.
Why is The Hunt worth watching?
“The Hunt” stars excellent Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, a father in the midst of a painful divorce, and longing to see his son who lives with his ex-wife. He lives in a typical Danish village, and although he is absolutely miserable, he is surrounded by childhood friends and a tightly-knit community.
We get to experience and feel the loss of Lucas’ family as well as his job as a teacher, but we also get to see how a strong community tries to lift him out of his misery, and how a new job gives him new hope of a happy life once again.
I absolutely love the typically southern Scandinavian atmosphere of the quant village the director Thomas Vinterberg manages to portray, and the insight into the hunting culture of the region is very accurate. I come from a family who loves to hunt, and we live not too far away from where this is supposed to take place. From my experience, it’s absolutely spot on.
Just as life starts showing its good side to Lucas again, the movie takes an abrupt and masterfully executed turn, just as it can do in real life.
“The Hunt” shows us just how detrimental effects and consquences a seemingly innocent lie can have, and how fragile trust between friends can be.
The film hits right at the core of our humanity in so many ways, and I don’t know many who manages to go through the whole thing without feeling absolutey devastated, angry, sad, and empathetic all at once.
I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, and I suggest you avoid watching the trailer to take in the full experience of this film. The clip I included above does not spoil anything and can safely be watched to get a sense of the beautiful environments and tone oft he movie.
“The Hunt” went straight for the knockout emotionally speaking, and left me shook for a long while after having seen it. Just the way good movies sometimes do. And just like with the film “The Celbration” a bit further down the list, director Thomas Vinterberg excels at shaking us viewers to the core and making us question our beliefs and values.
Let the Right One In (2008) 🇸🇪 8.4/10
Watch the trailer for “Let the Right One In” above
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Per Ragnar, Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Synopsis: The Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, 1982. Oskar is 12 years old and bullied by his sadistic classmates. Oskar fantasises about revenge. Then he suddenly meets a newcomer girl his own age whom he has never seen before. Her name is Eli and she’s not like others – she can’t stay in sunlight, doesn’t eat food and to get into a room she needs to be invited in. She has to drink human blood to live, she is a vampire. When the climax is finally reached, Oskar and Eli must fight for their lives.
Why is Let the Right One In worth watching?
Here’s another favorite of mine, and in “Let the Right One In” we’re transported by director Thomas Alfredson to a cold and dark Stockholm suburb in the winter of 1983. We are introduced to a young boy called Oskar, who’s standing in his room with a typical Swedish “mora” knife, contemplating how he can defend himself from the bullies in school.
Like most boys, he wants to be able to fight back, something he has never dared to do. As he’s daydreaming of his sweet revenge, he notices that a new neighbor is moving into his neighborhood, who seems to be even more of an outcast that he is.
“Let the Right One In” offers familiar and vintage environments from 1980s Sweden, and almost unsuspectingly leads the viewer onto an increasingly eerie path of horror and fright.
The film manages to find a completely different tone than horror films usually do, with its story about the relationship and companionship between a very weird girl and a sad and lonely boy.
Although the film is permeated by a threatening atmosphere, friendship and love are ultimately always in focus, and it manages to be simultaneously naive, brutal, emotional, frightening, and above all very beautiful in my opinion.
The Celebration (1998) 🇩🇰 8.4/10
Watch the trailer for “The Celebration” above
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Ulrich Thomsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Henning Moritzen, Paprika Steen
Synopsis: A film about how the façade of a Danish family with a high social status is crumbling. It is a beautiful summer day. Patriarch Helge turns 60 and invites family and friends to a grand party at his estate outside Copenhagen. At the dinner, the eldest son makes a speech and after that everything changes.
Why is The Celebration worth watching?
In “The Celebration”, director Thomas Vinterberg (who also directed “The Hunt” a few spots up) shows us many different perspectives of an elaborate 60th birthday party for a family man. As family and friends, including his three adult children, celebrate his big day, some increasingly uncomfortable family matters emerge to be dealt with once and for all.
The Celebration is the first in a series of films that form part of the avant-garde film movement that began with the creation of the Dogme 95 manifesto by the four Danish directors Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen.
It is based on a set of dogmas and rules, which the directors agreed on together and swore to follow in their filmmaking, including that the sound must not be produced separately from the picture, that no artificial lighting was to be used, and that the camera must be hand-held at all times.
This idea of restricting expression sprung up as a response to high-budget Hollywood-style film-making, and really brings a fresh perspective to Scandinavian and global film. If you’re curious about this movement, “The Celebration” is an excellent introduction to the genre.
Autumn Sonata (1978) 🇸🇪 8.4/10
Watch the trailer for “Autumn Sonata” above
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Björk
Synopsis: After not seeing each other for seven years, Charlotte and her daughter Eva are reunited in her daughter’s home. The mother, a renowned concert pianist, has recently suffered a personal bereavement. Her male friend has died. Eva hears about this and has a sudden impulse to write to her mother and invite her to her home. There is also another daughter in the house, Helena, who is severely handicapped and who has been cared for by her eldest daughter for two years. The mother does not know about this. She thinks Helena is being cared for in a hospital, where she left her.
Why is Autumn Sonata worth watching?
Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata” provides a powerful portrayal of family dynamics, with a low-key script that deals with pent-up grief and recentment. The cinematography and metaphorical zoom-ins and outs work as cinematic guides, without becoming overly obvious or even noticeable most of the time.
But what really makes this film stand out in a league of its own is the extremely talented cast. Most film nerds likely rejoiced when Ingrid and Ingmar Bergman finally managed to make a film together, especally considering Ingrid passed away just seven years later.
It feels like Ingmar managed to squeeze out every ounce of acting talent from one of Sweden’s most merited actors of all time, and add to that some phenomenal performances from Ingmar Bergman favorite Liv Ullman and Lena Nyman who plays the daughters of Ingrid’s character.
The colors and scenes are captured wonderfully with Bergman’s and Nykvist’s camera, as always, and all in all the movie just exudes quality through and through.
One of Bergman’s favorite tricks is to present complicated questions through seemingly basic storytelling, leaving us to deal with hard concepts such as loss, hatred, complicated family relationships, the love of music, and ambition.
The Guilty (2018) 🇩🇰 8.3/10
Watch the trailer for “The Guilty” above
Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Katinka Evers-Jahnsen
Synopsis: Police officer Asger Holm responds to a 112 call from a kidnapped woman. When the call is suddenly cut off, a nerve-wracking hunt for the woman and her kidnappers begins. With the phone as his only tool, Asger fights against the clock to save the woman. But it soon turns out that the crime is bigger and more serious than Asger first thought.
Why is The Guilty worth watching?
The Danish “The Guilty” is directed by Swede Gustav Möller, and as many others before it it was quickly subjected to an American remake (starring Jake Gyllenhaal and as expected much, much worse). The movie saw instant success not only in the eyes of Hollywood producers, but also among critics.
It won at Sundance and was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Non-English Language Film the same year, as well as nominated twice at the European film awards.
So how could cinema nerds all over the world fall in love with this Nordic Noir thriller despite its meager budget? As you get pulled in to the masterfully executed suspense Möller managed to create, you start seeing why real fast.
You sit at the edge of your seat as the movie bends and turns in unexpected and thrilling ways, and if you’re a fan of Nordic Noir series such as “The Bridge” and “The Killing”, you’ll fall head over heels with “The Guilty”.
A Swedish Love Story (1970) 🇸🇪 8.3/10
Watch the trailer for “A Swedish Love Story” above
Director: Roy Andersson
Starring: Rolf Sohlman, Ann-Sofie Kylin, Bertil Norström, Lennart Tellfelt, Anita Lindblom, Margreth Weivers
Synopsis: A Swedish Love Story depicts the love between two young people, Annika and Pär, and describes all the uncertainty, fear, tenderness, and joy they experience together. In the background is always the reality of their parents, the lost generation of the Swedish welfare society. Their lonely dreams of the future have been lost in the daily routine of the car repair shop and the refrigerator agency. One of Sweden’s first color films in stereo.
Why is A Swedish Love Story worth watching?
Pär and Annika are two young people living in a typical Swedish town in the 1970s. They quickly take a liking to each other and fall deeply in love, like teenagers unviversally tend to do. Outside of their endless love, they try their best to navigate unemployed and obnoxious parents who constantly look down on them and try their best at suppressing their humanity.
With his charming and realistic storytelling, Roy Andersson masterfully portrays how children in the 1970s would relate to each other, their parents, and the Swedish society as a whole.
Everyday teenage life can be beauitful in its simplicity, with moped rides, undersized leather jackets, and cheap cigarettes. The genius of this film is that most of us will likely recognize parts of our own youth, no matter which century, or which country we grew up in.
Oslo, August 31st (2011) 🇳🇴 8.2/10
Watch the trailer for “Oslo, August 31st” above
Release Year: 2011 Director: Joachim Trier
Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Malin Crepin, Petter Width Kristiansen
Synopsis: 34-year-old Anders will soon finish his drug rehabilitation in the countryside. He gets a waiver to go to a job interview in town and then runs away from it all. He’s still young, but in many ways it’s all too late and he’s tormented by all the opportunities he’s squandered and all the people he’s let down.
Why is Oslo, August 31st worth watching?
This is an eerily realistic character-driven story that hits the nail on the head in portraying this weird feeling of being in the world, but not feeling like a part of it. The actors and dialogue are as understated as they are good, with most of the drama taking place within the protagonist’s own mind.
The movie also offers a very accurate depiction of Oslo, a city where I’ve found myself in many late nights among people of all walks of life. And as someone who knows many real-world Anders characters, the film feels very authentic about the way it portrays the world of neverending parties.
It does help when you’ve lived in this world yourself, but anyone should be able to enjoy the powerful depiction of life on the fringes of society, and hopefully learn a thing or two from it.
Raven’s End (1963) 🇸🇪 8.1/10
Watch the trailer for “Raven’s End” above
Director: Bo Wideberg
Starring: Thommy Berggren, Keve Hjelm, Emy Storm, Ingvar Hirdwall
Synopsis: The year is 1936, and Anders lives with his alcoholic father and hard-working mother in Malmö’s poor working-class neighbourhood. It is a troubled time in the world; Nazism is growing in Europe, there is a civil war in Spain and social injustice is rife in Sweden. Anders wants to be a writer, but his dreams are dashed when he is rejected by the big publishing house in Stockholm. After much deliberation, Anders decides to break up and leave his parents and his girlfriend, as he has just done with children.
Why is Raven’s End worth watching?
I am a Malmö boy through and through, and grew up around the neighborhood of “Raven’s End”, albeit almost a century after it’s supposed to take place. Still, the culture of Malmö flows through this movie in many similar ways it still does today, and the struggles of Malmöites feels as real in this movie as it has throughout my life.
It all takes place in the mid-1930s, in working-class Malmö, where the pennies need to be pinched, and where Anders’ dreams of becoming a writer. He longs for a different life then the one he has been dealt, to get away from the poverty and the overcrowded neighborhood that surrounds him, but perhaps most of all leave his father’s drunkenness and destructive ways behind.
The film touches on everyday, boring subjects that still tend to be both powerful and complicated, and the actors do a great job portraying the struggling folks of Lugnet, Malmö.
It might be my personal connection to the place, or the familiar feeling of being a hopeless dreamer among people who fall into the same old behaviors time and time again — either way the film hit home and left a lasting impression on me.
With “Raven’s End” Bo Widerberg shows that a great film doesn’t have to tell everything about everybody in order to present its story effectfully. Sometimes small parts are enough if it’s done well, and this movie is extremely well-made.
Songs From the Second Floor (2000) 🇸🇪 8.1/10
Watch the trailer for “Songs from the Second Floor” above
Director: Roy Andersson
Starring: Lars Nordh, Stefan Larsson, Bengt C.W. Carlsson, Torbjörn Fahlström
Synopsis: One evening, somewhere in the northern hemisphere, a series of strange and illogical events occur: a civil servant is humiliatingly dismissed, a lost immigrant is violently attacked on a busy street, a magician fails in his magic act. In the midst of this mayhem stands Karl, covered in soot from his burnt-out furniture shop, which he set alight himself to get the insurance money.
Why is Songs From the Second Floor worth watching?
Here’s a wonderfully weird film that puts you in a state of peace and tranqulity. “Songs from the Second Floor” is fun to watch, but in order to take it in fully one has to be able to let go of the stresses of everyday life.
The film is set in the present, but in a version of it that we may find hard to recognise, as silence has conquered the now meaningless spoken words. The only thing that breaches the supreme silence are the occasional screams of pain and frustration from the inhabitants of this strange world.
Roy Andersson’s beautiful film won five Golden Globes, the Cannes Jury Prize and numerous international awards and is well worth a watch for the experience alone.
Because “Songs from the Second Floor” is a rare and powerful film experience, and extremely original in its narrative structure and cinematography. The lifeless muted sets along with with the wide interpretive space definitely contributes to the film’s unique atmosphere.
In many ways it reflects the struggles of life in modern western society; if you don’t have a business idea, you can’t adapt to the new times, you won’t make it.
The cynic inside of me loves the artifical settings, the rigid institutions, the whitewashed faces, the monotonous dialogues, the meaningless faces, the grey skies, and of course the hopeless people.
They all do a great job at describing this gnawing sense of something being wrong, that we all can likely relate to in one way or another.
The Man Without a Past (2002) 🇫🇮 8.1/10
Watch the trailer for “The Man Without a Past” above
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Starring: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Juhani Niemelä, Kaija Pakarinen, Sakari Kuosmanen, Annikki Tähti
Synopsis: A man is on his way to Helsinki to look for a job. He barely has time to get off the train before he is robbed and beaten. When he wakes up, he has lost his memory. Without a name or identity, he has to start his life all over again. He ends up on the outskirts of the city, where he settles among its less fortunate inhabitants. As he tries to find his way back to life, he encounters compassion and the great love.
Why is The Man Without a Past worth watching?
“The Man Without a Past” is set in 2001 – but at the same time, Kaurismäki has created a unique world heavily inspired by the fifties and sixties.
Like Roy Andersson, Kaurismäki is an expert at creating a world that both exists and does not. As the movie starts a train rolls into Helsinki, with the contradictory city in the background.
Along with his cinematographer Timo Salminen, Kaurismäki manages to create a uniquely poetic and rare environment surrounding the main character M, as we follow him along his strange wanderings around Helsinki.
The dialogue may be sparse, but it’s also complex in its mix of high-pitched politeness, snappy tone, and subdued humor.
As a half-Finn who spent the summers in Finland throughout my childhood, “The Man Without a Past” feels extremely Finnish but at the same time is strangely universal, which definitely adds to the overall experience of this film.
After the Wedding (2006) 🇩🇰 8.0/10
Watch the trailer for “After the Wedding” above
Director: Susanne Bier
Starring: Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Mads Mikkelsen
Synopsis: Jakob has dedicated his life to helping street children in India. Back in Denmark, he receives an invitation to a wedding one day. Once he arrives, Jakob begins to wonder who really invited him. And why.
Why is After the Wedding worth watching?
This is one of the movies that left the strongest impression on me after watching it. We find ourselves in India, where Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is sitting on a truck bed, torn between his urge to help the less fortunate — and his need for raising financial support for the cause. He is clearly unhappy and seems to desperately want to escape from a past that haunts him.
After getting a promising lead to a massive donation, he leaves the Indian children he has grown to love behind and returns to Denmark. He has to meet the businessman behind the donation, Jörgen (Rolf Lassgård), who is set to turn his own and Jacob’s life upside-down in more ways than one.
We embark upon a dark but gripping story about doing the right thing and, above all, taking care of your family no matter what. Is Jacob just the pawn in an eccentric man’s twisted chess game, or is he playing a bigger role somehow?
It almost goes without saying, but Mads Mikkelsen is without a doubt one of Scandinavia’s best actors, and along with a grizzly Rolf Lassgård who has delivered Swedish cult classics on a conveyor belt for the last fifty years, this movie is a spectacular display of acting talent combined with an extremely well-executed and interesting story.
We are also treated to great performances by Stine Fischer Christensen as well as Stine Babett Knudsen (“Borgen”), and with Susanne Bier’s masterful directing this movie hits all the buttons for me.
“After the Wedding” is ultimately a very powerful movie that definitely helped define Susanne Bier as one of Europe’s most interesting female filmmakers for me, but more importantly for the world as a whole.
Land of Mine (2015) 🇩🇰 8.0/10
Watch the trailer for “Land of Mine” above
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Starring: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Roland Møller, Laura Bro
Synopsis: May 1945. A few days after the end of the Second World War, a group of young German prisoners of war are brought to Denmark to disarm the two million mines scattered along the Danish west coast by the Germans. Commanding the group is Sergeant Carl Leopold Rasmussen. Like many of his compatriots, he feels an abysmal hatred for the Germans after five miserable years of occupation. Rasmussen lets his anger flow over the prisoners of war until a tragic accident occurs that causes him to change his view of the enemy, even though it may be too late.
Why is Land of Mine worth watching?
I’m a huge history nerd and a complete sucker for historical war movies. That said, it’s a rarity to be treated with a Nordic war movie of the absolute highest caliber, and that is exactly what “Land of Mine” is.
The film immediately captures the viewer’s interest, even before you actually see anything. The heavy breathing of a human being grows louder, until we see Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) in his military jeep, watching crowds of mostly very young captured German soldiers, wandering by in a miserable state.
Perhaps in search of a sense of well-deserved justice, he suddenly rushes out of the jeep and beats one of the soldiers bloody, illustrating the immense hatred of the Danish population toward the occupying Germans.
There’s no doubt that the anger is justified, and so Martin Zandvliet establishes the overarching theme of the movie, which takes us through a series of events after the end of the war, when Danish soldiers kept German soldiers in the country and forced them to carry out deadly mine clearance on the west coast.
Although the film is in color, the tones are kept muted and capture the Jutlandic seascape and its endless sandy beaches, dunes, and moors beautifully.
“Land of Mine” depicts a very dark chapter in our history, with a focus that is likely unknown to many from the younger generations of Danes and Southern Swedes. Perhaps this is also why it feels like such an important film in times of war on the European continent, to remind us about the horrors and inhumanities of wars, no matter where and when they take place.
Troubled Water (2008) 🇳🇴 8.0/10
Release Year: 2008 Director: Erik Poppe
Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Stig Henrik Hoff, Bodil Jorgensen, Anneke von der Lippe, Trond Espen Seim
Synopsis: Can you ever forgive yourself after murdering an innocent child? Can you ever forgive the unforgivable, forgive the person who murdered your child? The invisible tell two stories. Two stories that reflect different sides of a murder that took place eight years ago.
“Troubled Water” is a film that ties together different stories and people in an equally gripping and horrifying way, with a very good cast and masterful direction by Erik Poppe. It’s a dramatic film made to appeal to a wide audience, without feeling too commercial (not an easy balancing act in my experience).
The themes of the movie range from everyday things like family and work, as well as emotions that I think most people, not the least parents, can relate to.
Over the course of the film, you get emotionally closer to the fantastically well-acted and well-written characters, and gain new perspectives on events that ultimately answer questions you have had gnawing in the back of your mind.
All in all, I think it’s very cleverly woven together, but also at times perhaps a bit too predictable and not entirely believable. But perhaps that’s on purpose by the talented Poppe?
Open Hearts (2002) 🇩🇰 8.0/10
Watch the trailer for “Open Hearts” above
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Sonja Richter, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Paprika Steen
Synopsis: Cecilie and Joachim are young and in love. They have their lives ahead of them. They are getting married. Marie and Niels are already married. Happily. With three children. But in one fateful second, the fates of the four collide and a new impossible love emerges.
Why is Open Hearts worth watching?
Open Hearts offers plenty of humour and feels authentic at the same time, as we follow two couples whose lives are changed by an accident. They have to decide how to deal with this transformative event, how to process it, and come to terms with how it may change their passion in life.
Susanne Bier shows us once more how the fragility of life is intangible, and how we humans are fairly ill-equipped to deal with real tragedy. Everyone reacts differently in the end, but what unites them is their belief that they aren’t as affected as they later realise.
With the recent war in Ukraine in mind, we have all seen how modern life can take a sudden turn or be extinguished altogether in a heartbeat. That doesn’t mean we can accept it though, which is a main theme in this movie.
The cinematography in this film is good, and as with other Dogma films, the lighting consists only of natural light sources which ads to the sense of realism in my opinion.
Add to this a good script by Susanne Bier with a lots of humour and good characters, a great cast with Mads Mikkelsen and Sonja Richter, and it’s not hard to imagine that it’ll be a good movie viewing experience.
Show Me Love (1998) 🇸🇪 7.9/10
Watch the music video for Broder Daniel – Whirlwind, part of the soundtrack to F**king Åmål
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Starring: Alexandra Dahlström, Rebecka Liljeberg, Erica Carlson, Mathias Rust
Synopsis: Fucking Åmål is about a group of youngsters in the small town of Åmål: Elin, who has made out with about 70,000 guys and thinks everything is boring and longs for something to happen, Elin’s big sister Jessica who thinks Elin is just immature – she herself is with Markus who thinks he is the toughest guy in Åmål and Markus’ friend Johan who is in love with Elin – but Elin thinks Johan is lame because he drives a moped even though he goes to high school, and finally Agnes who is the loneliest girl in the world and loves a certain person so much that her heart almost breaks.
Why is Show Me Love worth watching?
When Lukas Moodysson broke into the Swedish film scene with F**king Åmål (as its called in Sweden) it was with a bang and a half. The movie offered audiences something fresh that we hadn’t seen before, or at least not for a long time.
Even if the adolescent themes were familiar with most of us, as we’ve all been through similar events throughout our own youth, we saw something that felt real, and we empathized with the characters in a way that is rare.
What this film offered was a fresh perspective the courage of being human. The dialogue felt authentic in a way most movies do not achieve, and the characters delivered snappy, funny and sometimes surprisingly insightful dialogue.
And if you need some more convincing that this movie is worth a watch, I’ll refer you to the legendary Ingmar Bergman, who placed F***ing Åmål on his list of the “Best movies of the 20th century”. Add to that awards for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival, at the Guldbaggegalan and at the Rotterdam International Film Festival — no small feat for a debut film.
Everlasting Moments (2008) 🇸🇪 7.9/10
Director: Jan Troell
Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, Maria Heiskanen, Jesper Christensen
Synopsis: At the beginning of the 20th century, Maria, a young working-class woman, wins a camera in a lottery. At the time, she is married to Sigfrid Larsson, a womaniser and alcoholic, and is also the mother of seven children. The photographer Sebastian Petersson teaches her to take pictures and Maria begins to look at the world and life with new eyes. As time goes by, Maria’s pictures tell us more and more about the “now” she lives in – poverty and development, everyday joy and outbreaks of war, an entire society in transformation.
Why is Everlasting Moments worth watching?
Everlasting Moments is Jan Troell’s last great film in my mind, and that is not the least due to the script that is based on a documentary family chronicle by his wife Agneta Ulfsäter Troell. Troell manages to bring to life the sad and beautiful tale of his wife’s grandfather’s sister, who died in 1930 at the age of 53.
Maria Larsson (Heiskanen) lives in small material circumstances with a growing family of children and a husband, Sigrid (Persbrandt), who is a dockworker, womanizer, and drunk.
Her daily life changes when she finds a forgotten camera that she once won in a lottery, and goes to the local photography store to pawn it in order to put food on the table in tought times.
The photographer Sebatian Pedersen (Christensen) in the shop sees a few pictures she snapped on trial, and with his encouragement, technical help and passionate support she discovers a unique natural aptitude for artistic photography, and a new source of joy in her otherwise challenging life.
As a hobby photographer I loved sharing the discovery of her love for the craft, and as a Malmö local I am taken aback by the beautiful and familiar sets.
The story is heart-warming, sad and interesting all at once, and the film is a finely detailed and empathetic reconstruction of Swedish working-class life at the turn of the last century. It makes it clear once again that Jan Troell is one of Sweden’s best filmmakers, especially when it comes to the environments and photography.
Maria Heiskanen makes a brilliant portrayal of Maria Larsson and Danish Jesper Christensen portrays the empathetic photographer in an authentic and believable way.
As Sigfrid, Mikael Persbrandt does a pretty good job portraying a very complicated character, who is jolly and well-meaning one minute, only to fall into destructive and violent ways the next.
Riders of Justice (2020) 🇩🇰 7.9/10
Watch the trailer for “Riders of Justice” above
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Roland Møller, Gustav Lindh
Synopsis: The military man Markus has lost his wife in a train accident. Everything seems to be a coincidence until statisticians Otto, Emmenthaler and Lennart show up. They present algorithms that show that the accident may not have been a coincidence but a planned attack.
Why is Riders of Justice worth watching?
Riders of Justice is a puzzle of a film, with pieces gradually falling into place as the movie progresses. Anders Thomas Jensen puts forward a classic pyramid of events with a domino effect, which I enjoyed immensly.
It’s also a black comedy at heart and there were a couple of times when you can’t help but laugh at it all despite the serious themes of the film.
As we’ve gotten used to with Mads Mikkelsen at this point, he does a fantastic job. And this goes for the other actors as well. The characters are some of the more memorable once I’ve seen, a slightly weird bunch that stand out with their chemistry and dialogue.
Though we do see a lot of action and comedy in the film, it is ultimately about sadness and how to deal with it, which is something that we all struggle with from time to time.
Brothers (2004) 🇩🇰 7.9/10
Watch the trailer for “Brothers” above
Director: Susanne Bier
Starring: Connie Nielsen, Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Sarah Juel Werner
Synopsis: When Michael goes on a UN mission to war-torn Afghanistan, the balance between the brothers changes forever. Michael is reported missing and presumed dead. Sarah seeks comfort from Jannik, who unexpectedly takes responsibility for both himself and the family. When Michael returns from his traumatic captivity in Afghanistan, everything changes.
Why is Brothers worth watching?
Brothers is about a pair of brothers (who’d have guessed?), Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) and Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who are as different as you can get, as it so often is in real families as well.
Michael is a major, has an orderly family life with beautiful Sarah (Connie Nielsen) and two lovely kids. On the other end of the spectrum we have the little brother Jannik, who has just been released from prison after a bank robbery.
Though they are brothers, their reunion shows that there is no great sibling love present — but they don’t have time to dislike each other for too long. Michael is off to Afghanistan to help the Danish troops stationed there, and this will turn everything upside down for everyone involved, as war so often does.
Brothers is an incredibly powerful film, touching on a theme where no answers are right or wrong. It explores how to deal with grief and complicated family relations, and the actors are outstanding, not the least Connie Nielsen who makes a comeback in the Danish movie scene after a period of Hollywood movies.
In China They Eat Dogs (1999) 🇩🇰 7.8/10
Watch the trailer for “In China They Eat Dogs” above
Director: Lasse Spang Olsen
Starring: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Kim Bodnia, Dejan Cukic, Tomas Villum Jensen
Synopsis: Arvid’s girlfriend finds him so boring that she leaves him, but on the same day he manages to fend off an armed robbery of the bank where he works and becomes a hero. However, the robber’s girlfriend furiously seeks him out and in an attempt to set things right, Arvid contacts his criminal brother. Which only leads to more trouble.
Why is In China They Eat Dogs worth watching?
I personally love this weird and wonderful film — a hilarious Danish gem from the late 90’s, and writer Anders Thomas Jensen’s real breakthrough movie (before he went on to write and direct the more serious After the Wedding, Brothers, and In a Better World).
In my opinion, it is as good now as it was then (even if some of the effects can feel a bit dated today).
It’s a great attempt at Danish black comedy in a similar spirit to what the Cohen brothers tend to produce, and with impressive acting by all involved, especially Kim Bodina (who you probably recognize from The Bridge).
The whole story is so twisted that you can’t help but laugh at it all, and likewise the absolutely fantastic dialogue throughout the film are a treat for fans of dark comedy.
A Man Called Ove (2015) 🇸🇪 7.8/10
Watch the trailer for “A Man Called Ove” above
Director: Hannes Holm
Starring: Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Bahar Pars
Synopsis: 59-year-old widower Ove is the neighbourhood’s angry policeman. When highly pregnant Parvaneh and her family move into the townhouse across the street and back into Ove’s mailbox, a comic and heartwarming story begins of messy cats, unexpected friendships and love so strong that death seems the only way out. Hannes Holm directs based on Fredrik Backman’s best-selling novel.
Why is A Man Called Ove worth watching?
When I first read the book this film is based on, I was extremely impressed by how then-newcomer Fredrik Backman managed to capture so many emotions, characters, and environments so well. I was pulled in and out of happiness and sorrow, and it left me affected in ways that few stories manage to do.
And the film does a good job in presenting this story on the screen, and similarly thaws even the most frosty of hearts just as the book does. It’s a story of a bitter and hopeless old man, portrayed nicely by Rolf Lassgård, and captures life in a typical Swedish neighborhood really well.
I’d recommend reading the book before watching the film, but if you aren’t a book person this movie is well worth the watch. There is also an American remake of this movie called A Man Called Otto with Tom Hanks, but my general rule is that the remakes are never worth it.
Force Majeure (2014) 🇸🇪 7.8/10
Watch the trailer for “Force Majeure” above
Director: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius
Synopsis: A family goes to the Alps for a few days of skiing and time together. But an avalanche turns their lives upside down when father Tomas abandons his wife and two children in a near-death experience. Disaster does not strike, but this instinctive act causes the family to question their roles and father Tomas in particular. The last days of the holiday are a test for the marriage and for Tomas a struggle to regain his status as the father of the family begins.
Why is Force Majeure worth watching?
Force Majeure has an eerie feeling about it, as Ruben Östlund has become a bit of an expert at creating. Vast mountains and valleys covered in snow rest under a white sky to the sound of aggressive organ music, with a moment of pure instinct looming that will change everything for a family on a ski holiday in France.
There are many good qualities and clear points in the movie, and the realistic presentation is combined with the fact that the film is always very straight to the point. From the very first scene, you understand exactly what conflict the plot will revolve around.
The movie is anything but stereotypical, despite the appearance of the nuclear family of mother, father and children. Because though Tomas is the man of the family, he is hardly the strong breadwinner he wants to be so badly. And when an avalanche crashes down on the family during a meal, he abandons his wife and children – and runs for his life.
Everyone survives, but the avalanche shatters the fragile family bonds, unveiling a relationship story with a steady pulse and quiet dramatic moments. The cinematography relies on static imagery a lot, and will tickle you the right way if you are a fan of Wes Anderson’s films.
In a Better World (2010) 🇩🇰 7.7/10
Watch the trailer for “In a Better World” above
Why is In a Better World worth watching?
We’ve already reached the fourth Susanne Bier film on this list, and by now you should now what to expect of this brilliant Danish filmmaker.
As in “Open Hearts”, “Brothers” and “After the Wedding”, she excels in presenting major moral issues, and scrutinises different attitudes and choices of individuals, as well as the consequences of ones actions.
With In a Better World, Bier and her screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen deepens the conflict between the Bible’s “eye for an eye” and “turn the other cheek”. Biblical references are never far away in her films, a fact reinforced in this case by the names Elias and Christian.
The movie offers sweeping visual juxtapositions, alternating between a dusty refugee camp in Darfur and the superficially cool Danish landscape.
In a Better World is a rich, complex work which will reveal additional layers as you scratch the surface. It deals with fear and power in both Danish and Swedish society, and Susanne Bier has once again made one a brilliant drama.
As It Is in Heaven (2004) 🇸🇪 7.7/10
Watch the trailer for “As it is in Heaven” above
Director: Kay Pollak
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Lennart Jähkel, Frida Hallgren, Helen Sjöholm
Synopsis: An internationally successful conductor drastically interrupts his career and retreats alone to his childhood village in the north of Sweden. It’s not long before he is asked to come and listen to the small, scrappy church choir that practices every Thursday in the parish hall. Just to come and maybe give some good advice. He finds it hard to say no, and from that moment on nothing is the same in the village. The choir develops and grows. He makes friends and enemies. And he meets love.
Why is As It Is in Heaven worth watching?
Life in rural Northern Sweden is very unique from a global perspective, especially compared to the fast-moving modern world most of us city folks are used to.
This is something we discover fairly quickly in this beautiful film from Kay Pollack, which tells the story of an internationally successful conductor who drastically interrupts his career and retreats alone to his childhood village in the north of Sweden.
The film is about rediscovering your childhood, about making friends and enemies, and about love.
The acting performances by Nykvist and Hallgren are excellent, and there are some brilliant scenes scatter throughout the film.
The major theme in the movie revolves around personal development, and we are taken on an epic inner journey from the first minute to the last.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) 🇸🇪 7.7/10
Watch the trailer for “The Millenium trilogy” above
Director: Niels Arden Oplev, Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Noomi Rapace
Synopsis: From Stieg Larsson’s successful trilogy: In 1966, 16-year-old Harriet Vanger disappears without a trace. 40 years later, journalist Mikael Blomkvist is approached by industry leader Henrik Vanger to write his family’s story. However, this is only a cover to find out what happened to Harriet. Mikael gets help from the young, troublemaking computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. Together, the unlikely pair begin to delve into the Vanger family’s past and encounter a darker and bloodier story than anyone imagined.
Why is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo worth watching?
For fans of Nordic Noir in general, the Swedish Millennium trilogy is the motherload. The books by Stieg Larsson are among the best of the best Nordic Noir fiction out there, and Danish director Niels Arden Oplev does a great job adapting the first movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (titled “Män som hatar kvinnor” in Sweden).
Building on the excellent story of the books, and combined with a stellar cast of Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Stefan Sauk and Sven Bertil Taube to name a few, it’s nothing short of a slam-dunk for Oplev.
He manages to capture the Swedish environments perfectly, and brings the iconic characters Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbet Salander to life in a way that felt spot on in so many ways.
The uniqueness of Stieg Larsson’s books lies in their detail and simple yet powerful narrative style. He manages to create a marvellous cocktail of classic murder mysteries, white-collar crime, modern politics, exploitative lawyers, loose love connections — all with a perfectly balanced end-result.
Delivering these three detailed bricks on film is definitely no easy task, but the first film succeeds in this without any doubt. Of course, once you’ve watched the first there is very little that will hold you back from finishing the whole trilogy.
Border (2018) 🇸🇪 7.7/10
Watch the trailer for “Border” above
Director: Ali Abbasi
Starring: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren, Kjell Wilhelmsen
Synopsis: Customs officer Tina has a sixth sense when it comes to pointing out smugglers. It’s almost as if she can smell when someone is hiding something. But when the mysterious Vore steps off the ferry, she hesitates for the first time about her feelings. They are attracted to each other, but as she gets to know him, she realizes at the same time that her life is based on one big lie. Like Vore, Tina doesn’t belong in this world. From a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Why is Border worth watching?
This movie knocked me out in more ways than one; it was beautifully shot, purposefully told, and suprising on so many levels. The director and actors all did a phenomenal job telling this wonderfully weird and important story.
In Border, we are exposed to some very important questions in an unforgettable way that I did not expect, nor easily forget. The magic mythology that characterises the film’s main characters is well-executed by director Ali Abbasi, and it’s not hard to draw comparisons to the treament of minorities in western society.
Those who fall outside the norm are celebrated in this film, groups of people that can easily feel lonely and ostracized in society. Because it’s hard enough to figure ouy who you are in solitude, let alone figuring out how to fit into society.
Actors Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff, who each won a Guldbagge for their roles, do a magnificent job in their respective roles. Their chemistry that develops between them feels very real and tangible, and the whole movie transports you to a world you both recognize and are mesmerized by at the same time.
Visually, the film is a feast for the eyes as you are drawn into the magical Swedish forests filled with foxes, moose and cozy nooks. I have not seen forests portrayed this beautifully, and with such mystery in a Swedish film before, and for that aspect alone it’s well worth the watch.
Border is ultimately a beautiful love story about daring to be yourself, and it inspires you to think and ponder about how we can change the world for the better — thoughts that linger long after the film ends.
Submarino (2010) 🇩🇰 7.7/10
Watch the trailer for “Submarino” above
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Gustav Fischer Kjærulff, Sebastian Bull Sarning, Mads Broe Andersen, Jakob Cedergren
Synopsis: Two self-destructive brothers meet at their mother’s funeral. Both lost in a fog of drugs and alcohol, they are haunted by a shared tragedy that took place during their childhood.
Why is Submarino worth watching?
The only reason I needed to watch this movie was that it was made by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, best known for the dogma film “The Celebration” further up in this list. And just like that movie, this one deals with complicated family relationships. It’s a tough, realistic story of two brothers in modern-day Copenhagen, that fruitfully blends the violence and love that can be contained within a single individual.
The violence and abuse is raw, frightening and filmed with a documentary tone, but the brothers’ love for children, not just Martin, gives them a resurrection and makes them deeply human in the midst of everyday misery.
Jakob Cedergren (Nick), Peter Plaugborg (his little brother) and not least little Gustav Fischer-Kjærulff are excellent in their various, complex roles. The script is elaborate and dense with several sidetracks that keeps it interesting throughout.
A Royal Affair (2012) 🇩🇰 7.7/10
Watch the trailer for “A Royal Affair” above
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Trine Dyrholm
Synopsis: A classic love drama based on real events that shaped European history. The story of a man who wins the Queen’s heart and starts a revolution. At the centre is a triangle drama between the increasingly mad King Christian VII, Doctor Struensee, a man of enlightenment and idealism, and the young but strong Queen Caroline Mathilda.
Why is A Royal Affair worth watching?
Seasoned historians may already be familiar with the drama that is the focus of “A Royal Affair”, but for those of us that don’t follow the intricacies of the 18th century Danish royal court, this is a breath of fresh air and a real treat of a story.
The movie is based on the story of the British Caroline Mathilde, the Danish King Kristian VII, and the physician and Enlightenment scholar Johann Friedrich Struensee, and it is a real dramatic hotpot to say the least; filled with intrigue, passion and debauchery en masse.
It is set in the mid-18th century, when the ideas of the Enlightenment were beginning to spread in Europe. Fifteen-year-old Caroline Mathilde (portrayed by the excellent Alicia Vikander, known from Ex Machina), sister of the English King George III, travels to Denmark to marry her cousin, the young Danish King Kristian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard).
But life at the brutish Danish court comes as a shock to the intellectual Caroline Mathilde, and when the king’s new physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) turns out to have common interests with the young queen, the story takes a new turn.
This is a movie about friendship, love, alliances, and dreams, and gives us an insight into the birth of modern-day Denmark (hinted in the movie’s somewhat pompous tagline: “They changed a nation forever”).
Pusher (1996) 🇩🇰 7.6/10
Watch the trailer for Pusher above
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Kim Bodnia, Zlatko Buric, Laura Drasbæk, Slavko Labovic, Mads Mikkelsen
Synopsis: Frank is a drug dealer who gets into trouble when he is forced to destroy heroin worth 120 000 Danish kroner because the police are chasing him. Now he has to figure out a way to pay back man who gave him the drugs.
Why is Pusher worth watching?
What if I told you the director of the moody Hollywood smash hit Drive had his humble beginnings in a Danish low-budget cult classic from 1996? Let me introduce you to the excellent Pusher, by Nicolas Winding Refn.
In Pusher, we get to follow the Copenhagen drug dealer Frank, masterfully portrayed by Kim Bodnia (The Bridge, In China They Eat Dogs), and we get a glimpse into his messy everyday life on the streets.
The film is kind of similar to the likes of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock & Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but Refn instead attempts a more realistic portrayal of the underworld and the people who live in it. Many scenes are filmed with hand-held cameras and the photography is deliberately poorly lit, perhaps inspired by the popular Dogme 95 movement in the 90s.
The violence that occurs may be brutal, but it’s not glorifying and we learn quickly that every action leads to a reaction. We meet some gritty characters from the fringes of society, such as Frank’s prostitute girlfriend Vic, Frank’s maladjusted buddy Tonny, the ex-Yugoslav drug king Milan and his accomplices.
As action-packed and gritty as this film can be, it is ultimately about the search for happiness and the unique forms it can take. To sum it up, if you’re a fan of Martin Scorcese and Guy Ritchie films, I bet you’ll love Pusher as well.
The Square (2017) 🇸🇪 7.5/10
Watch the trailer for “The Square” above
Director: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Claes Bang, Dominic West, Terry Notary, Moa Enqvist Stefansdotter, John Nordling, Annica Liljeblad
Synopsis: Christian is a successful leader of a modern art museum – he lives at the centre of the art world and takes his work very seriously. Days before the opening of the prestigious exhibition The Square, he is robbed in the street, something he can neither shake off nor allow to go unnoticed. He embarks on a hunt for the perpetrator that puts him in increasingly dangerous situations and makes him question his own moral compass. At the same time, Christian has to deal with the public relations agency hired by the museum to promote the upcoming exhibition. Something that turns out to take an unexpected direction and puts both the artistic director and the museum in crisis.
Why is The Square worth watching?
What an experience it was to see this film; it was absurd, funny, dramatic, terrifying and hypnotic all at once.
The Square by Swede Ruben Östlund (who also made Force Majeure a bit further up on the list) is like a mix of Lars von Trier and Ingmar Bergman in their weirdest moods, with intense scenes that will literally take your breath away.
For many this is exactly how a film should be — it provokes, amuses, and affects you on an almost physical level.
The “Mods” Trilogy (1968, 1979, 1993) 🇸🇪 7.5/10
Watch a clip from “They Call Us Misfits” above
Starring: Kenneth ‘Kenta’ Gustafsson, Gustav ‘Stoffe’ Svensson, Stefan Jarl, Pundar-Bosse
Synopsis: Kenta and Stoffe are best friends. Their rebellious lifestyle clashes with the Swedish social norms of the late 1960s. But together with their friends in Stockholm, they share dreams, visions and the search for love.
Why is the “Mods” trilogy worth watching?
The Call us Misfits (“Dom kallar oss Mods” in Swedish) is a brutal documentary-esque film about life on the ugly fringes of society. Director Stefan Jarl takes us on a wild ride on the murkier side of Stockholm, exploring the daily lives of the destructive misfits who call themselves “Mods”.
The film feels real, but it’s no secret that the scenes are somewhat directed, and therefore not a documentary in the purest sense. But it is also obvious that the main characters Stoffe and Kenta are not playing any roles; they are themselves through and through.
They capture a sense of abandonment by society combined with a struggle for survival that misfits often feel, and while the first part of the series deals more with abuse of alcohol and cannabis, the second part introduces the much darker side of heroin abuse.
You can’t help but feel for the characters in the film, and that is what makes it so good in my mind. Stoffe and Kenta have a capacity for self-irony and self-awareness that few can create on the screen, and reinforces the feeling that you witness something real, and not manufactured.
Screwed in Tallinn (1999) 🇸🇪 7.5/10
Watch a clip from Screwed in Tallin above
Starring: Kenneth ‘Kenta’ Gustafsson, Gustav ‘Stoffe’ Svensson, Stefan Jarl, Pundar-Bosse
Synopsis: A group of Swedish men take part in an arranged trip to Tallinn to find a life partner. This mockumentary captures male loneliness in all its hideous nakedness.
Why is Screwed in Tallinn worth watching?
As far as this list goes, Screwed in Tallinn offers something completely different from any other movie featured here.
It’s a completely absurd and bittersweet mix of comedy and tragedy by the excellent Thomas Alfredson, the maker of Let the Right One In, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and features the hilarious Swedish comedians from the so-called “Killinggänget”, who made a name for themselves with the equally funny and absurd series Nile City 105.6.
It’s filmed in a mockumentary style that wasn’t very common at the time, and introduces us to a slew of iconic characters from rural Sweden, that are out on a quest for love in the saddest and most hilarious places and circumstances.
Many of the characters may feel over the top, but they are actually spot on in the saddest ways possible, which makes the movie even more bittersweet in all its hilarity.
This movie is a cult classic among my group of friends, and we’re all on the floor literally crying from laughing so hard every time we watch it. Will you have the same experience? Hard to say, but it’s worth the watch if you like series such as The Office and Arrested Development.
Unknown Soldier (2017) 🇫🇮 7.4/10
Watch the trailer for Unknown Soldier above
Why is Unknown Soldier worth watching?
As my family on my mother’s side were among those forced to flee from Karelia when the Soviets invaded, this was a hard movie to watch in so many ways. I’ve heard the stories and come to terms with how hard it all must’ve been for them all, but seeing it portrayed in such a beautiful and gritty way was brutal.
Unknown Soldier (“Tuntematon Sotilas” in Finnish) is based on the best-selling book with the same name by Väinö Linna, and is the third film adaptation so far (the first made in 1955, and the second in 1985).
It’s ultimately a movie that shows the horrors and brotherhood that the Soviet invasion of Finland during World War 2 caused, and is filmed and told in a way that fans of Band of Brothers and the recent version of All Quiet on the Western Front will absolutely love.
Director Aku Louhimies succeds in telling a gripping story of a muddy, icy war in the woods, and along with some great actor performances the film portrays the characters in a beautiful way.
It shows a war that is far from the glory and fame that so many American war movies are so good at, but instead shows how the soldiers crouching among the trees or in the trenches are affected in all kinds of horrible ways.
War is hell, and it changes the lives of soldiers, young men and boys indefinitely. What makes this movie extra powerful is how it shows that the war also changes the lives of those at home; the women and children who have to flee their home, and fight to survive on their own.
This is the hardest part for me personally to digest, as I’ve heard the stories about how my grandfather and his siblings fled the Russians, losing a few siblings along the way to the bombs and hunger. On top of the dangers of fleeing to occupied lands, the fear for those on the homefront is always there that the husband or son will not come back.
This was a war that left a deep mark on the Finnish nation, even those like me who were not born but have heard stories from the older generation. But despite the horrors and hardships, it is also a film that shows friendship, humour and the strong will to survive and persevere.
There are a few different version of this adaptation, and I’d recommend the longest of them (which runs for an epic 4 hours and 30 mins) if you’re into war movies, and maybe the shorter one if you’re not so much into war movies but still curious.
Involuntary (2010) 🇸🇪 7.4/10
Watch the trailer for The Involuntary above
Director: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Villmar Björkman, Linnea Cart-Lamy, Leif Edlund, Sara Eriksson, Lola Ewerlund, Olle Liljas
Synopsis: A teacher in the coffee room. A teenage girl in a park. A woman on a bus. An elderly man at a 60th birthday party. A guy at a reunion with his old gang. What do they have in common? Nothing, except that they are all forced to submit to the relentless mechanisms of the group.
Why is The Involuntary worth watching?
Ruben Östlund treats us to another uniquely Swedish tale in The Involuntary, where we follow some frightingly accurate characters on their equally absurd and mundane adventures.
We are taken on a wild trip from a birthday party where the hostess’ husband is hit in the eye by a firework but refuses to go to the hospital, to a stagnant bus journey where a principled bus driver refuses to continue the journey because of a torn curtain rail in the toilet.
Östlund is a master at producing these horribly awkward, random, and hilarious moments that Swedes sometimes find themselves in, and is able to meld together a fascinating series of short stories in this film.
Mother of Mine (2005) 🇫🇮 7.4/10
Watch the trailer for Mother of Mine above
Director: Klaus Härö
Starring: Brasse Brannström, Michael Nyqvist, Leif Andrée, Maria Lundqvist, Marie Göranzon, Esko Salminen
Why is Mother of Mine worth watching?
Mother of Mine tells the tale of Finnish war child Eero, who is sent to the childless couple Signe and Hjalmar Jönsson (Maria Lundqvist and Michael Nyqvist), somewhere in Skåne, Sweden.
Like many in his situation, Eero does not want to adapt to his new family and at the same time feels betrayed by his biological mother.
Still, we witness a friendship develop between Eero and Hjalmar, and while Signe does not want to take the boy on at all in the beginning, she starts developing increasingly warm maternal instincts as the movie progresses.
The film is powerful, believable and well-acted, and provokes plenty of sympathy along the way, but perhaps without the nerve and energy that would take it up a couple of spots on this list.
Still, we are treated with plenty of beautiful scenery and great cinematography in abundance, among the birch trees in the cold Finnish forest, and the rolling hills of the south coast of Skåne.
Flickering Lights (2000) 🇩🇰 7.2/10
Watch the trailer for Blinkende lygter above
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Søren Pilmark
Synopsis: Torkild the little gangster has had enough. Now he’s going to start an honest life. First he just has to make one last push to pay off his debt to the big gangster “the Faroe Islander”. Then, standing there with a bag full of money, he suddenly sees his chance to rip off “the Faroe Islander” and run off to Spain. Of course, his three slightly inept friends come along, but far from everyone thinks the plan is a smart idea…
Why is Flickering Lights worth watching?
Flickering Lights is Anders Thomas Jensen’s follow up to In China They Eat Dogs, and this time he directs as well as writes the script. It is an equally strange mix of small-minded people, humor, and crudeness, that at times it can feel a bit conventional, only to turn into a chaotic craze the next moment.
I absolutely loved this movie when it first came out, and it is not only exceptionally hillarious and clever, it takes you on a wild ride in the same spirit as a Guy Ritchie or Cohen brothers movie can.
Flickering Lights was one of the break-through roles of Mads Mikkelsen, who gives a stellar performance as the hillariously blunt Arne. On top of Mads, there is also a lot of good actors in general, with Nikolaj Lie Kaas Søren Pilmark and Ulrik Thomsen delivering some great performances as well.
Adam’s Apples (2005) 🇩🇰 7.2/10
Watch the trailer for Adam’s Apples above
Starring: Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Nicolas Bro, Paprika Steen
Synopsis: Ivan believes that his most important task as a priest is to support his fellow human beings. Not least those who have fallen on hard times. Adam the neo-Nazi is welcomed with open arms into Ivan’s unworldly collective, which consists of the alcoholic kleptomaniac and former tennis star Gunnar, the sentimental Sarah and the vengeful petrol station robber Khalid. But Ivan the priest has a rather vague grasp on reality himself, and it’s not long before there’s unrest in paradise and revelations and slaps hang in the air.
Why is Adam’s Apples worth watching?
Okay, this is the last Anders Thomas Jensen movie on this list, I promise! In Adam’s Apples we follow a neo-Nazi named Adam, who is sentenced to community service and spends his time with the priest Ivan, along with an alcoholic former tennis pro and a petrol station robber from Saudi Arabia.
Adam’s goal during community service is to bake an apple cake, which Ivan thinks is a brilliant idea. In fact, Ivan never sees anything negative at all, he lives completely in his own world. Eventually, Adam gets so fed up with Ivan’s attitude that he makes it his personal goal to break his seemingly endless positivity.
Adam’s Apples is as funny as Flickering Lights and In China They Eat Dogs, with a lot of twists and turns but still a very unique script. Plus, the ending is so good and unexpected that you can’t help but fall in love with the film and Jensen’s style in general.
Department Q (2013-2022) 🇩🇰 7.1/10
Watch the trailer for Department Q above
Release Year: 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2021
Starring: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Per Scheel Krüger, Troels Lyby, Øyvind B. Fabricius Holm
Why is Department Q worth watching?
Take a scoop of darkness from “The Bridge”, a thrilling plot from Nordic crime author Jussi Adler-Olsen, and let “Borgen” director Mikkel Nørgaard mix it together in an intriguing cocktail you cannot resist.
This is essentially the reipe for the Danish crime thriller series Department Q, with just enough excitement for a dark and cozy evening in front of the TV.
The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first in a series of films based on Adler-Olsen’s popular books about policeman Carl Mörck and his eccentric Department Q, and it leaves you wanting more (which there is plenty of at this point, with four movies released so far).
Trollhunter (2010) 🇳🇴 7.1/10
Watch the trailer for Troll Hunter above
Director: André Øvredal
Starring: Tomas Alf Larsen, Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck
Synopsis: A group of students are out in the Norwegian forests making a documentary about bear poaching. But when they find the man allegedly poaching bears, it turns out he’s after something else…
Why is Trollhunter worth watching?
Why bother with vampires when there are trolls? Given the wave of horror and fantasy in recent years, it’s curious that so few filmmakers have emerged from the deep, dark pond of Nordic folklore’s gnomes, trolls, goblins, gnolls, wraiths and forest witches; there’s a whole bunch of truly nasty creatures just waiting to be featured on the big screen.
Trollhunter is a fake documentary in the style of Blair Witch Project (but much worse, let’s be honest here). Still, we get some shaky infrared filming and terrified youngsters going bonkers in the woods with hand-held cameras, with the premise that the footage we are about to watch was allegedly found on a hard drive in 2008.
The story revolves around three cheeky journalism students from a public school who are reporting on a suspected poacher. To their delight, the scarred macho man turns out instead to have been dispatched by the “Troll Security Service”, a secret government agency that covers up the existence of trolls.
These are not cute and furry fairytale characters he’s dealing with, but rather stinky, deadly, and stupid monsters from a wide variety of species such as Raglefants, Tusseladder, Rimtusser, and Dovregubbar.
Trollhunter is low-budget, and it shows in the acting, the dialogue, and the longing for the trolls to actually show up (no epic CGI budget here…). It never gets particularly scary or nail-biting. But the mix of comedy, action, folklore and social satire is still quite irresistible.
Easy Money (2010) 🇸🇪 7.0/10
Watch the trailer for Snabba Cash (2010) above
Director: Daniél Espinosa
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela, Dragomir Mrsic, Lisa Henni, Mahmut Suvakci, Dejan Cukic
Synopsis: Based on Jens Lapidus’ hit novel. Johan “JW” Westlund lives a double life as a steakhouse owner at the hottest places on Stureplan. When he falls in love with the overclass girl Sophie, he is lured into the world of organized crime. Jorge makes an unlikely escape from prison and is on the run from both the police and the Yugoslav mafia. Mrado – a brutal collector in the Yugoslav mafia is in conflict with the boss Radovan. He is assigned to find Jorge, but at the same time is forced to take care of his 5-year-old daughter.
Why is Easy Money worth watching?
For fans of Nordic crime series such as Before We Die, Easy Money will scratch your itch just fine. There is also a new Netflix series with the same name, but it’s not based on the same story (still worth watching though!).
Snabba Cash (as it’s called in Swedish) is based on the extremely succesful book, by Swedish standards, written by Jens Lapidus, and features the nowadays very succesful Joel Kinnaman (For All Mankind, The Killing, House of Cards) as Johan Westlund (JW), and Matias Varela (Narcos) as Jorge.
JW has moved from the rural northern Sweden to the capital Stockholm, and is studying at the prestigious Stockholm School of Economics. He is clever, and makes his way into the circles of a group of stereotypical spoiled brats with rich daddies in search for prestige and respect.
He feels he has to show the same rich and careless image as his newfound “friends” seem to do. His way there, however, will be by means of crime and bad decisions. Soon he finds he’s in well over his head, while the various underworld gangs continue their deadly war for control over the drug market.
Director Daniel Espinosa and writer Lapidus paint a far from romantic picture of the crime-filled Stockholm underworld, and brings to light the underlying theme that everyone in it ultimately looks out for themselves only.
It’s not a very deep film, but it does features some dark and sad themes that are ultimately more at home in the books. Still, the film manages to showcase the human nature involved, and it feels for the most part fairly grounded in reality.
While showcasing this cynical and utterly corrupt world, they offer what is in many ways a traditionally exciting film in classic gangster style. The pacing is good and while the film punches the gut in many ways, it is fast-paced and entertaining.
Häjyt (1999) 🇫🇮 6.8/10
Watch a clip from Häjyt above (unfortunately no subtitles)
Starring:Samuli Edelmann, Juha Veijonen, Teemu Lehtila, Kalevi Haapoja
Synopsis: The brothers Antti and Jussi are two childhood criminals who return to their hometown after a five-year prison sentence. Before they were locked up, they managed to hide a sum of money from a bank robbery. But now the money is missing and a third bank robber, a childhood friend who escaped justice altogether, has walked the narrow path to become chief of police.
Why is Häjyt worth watching?
When my Finnish uncle showed me this movie back when it come out, I was blown away. Not only did it capture the unique rural Finnish spirit in such a hilarious way, but it also prompted some bittersweet reflection in the end.
When Heikki is asked by his girlfriend what is bothering him, he decides to tell the truth about what happened a few years ago. He and two thugs, Jussi and Antti, pulled off a bank robbery in which one person was shot and the robber’s loot was hidden.
While both Jussi and Antti were convicted of the robbery, Heikki managed to get away and ended up becoming a police officer, perhaps as a way to repent? When they are both released from prison and find out about Heikki’s new job, they fall into old habits real quick, which essentially means doing exactly what the hell they want.
Naturally, it doesn’t take long until they go too far, but by then everything has already gotten out of hand and there is no turning back from the chaos that is Jussi and Antti.
Häjyt offers an unpolished and tragicomical perspective of life in rural Finland, a heartfelt glimpse into Finnish culture at its worse and best(?), and some absurdly funny moments along the way.
This movie is like a glorious cross between Trailer Park Boys and Trainspotting, but in Finnish.
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