Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This month, Hollywood went Scandinavian for the 8th annual time

A few weeks ago, I gave a Great American Bakery Hunt shout out to the Scandinavian film festival. The event took place at the Writer's Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, and was organized by the American Scandinavian Foundation of Los Angeles.

Though the festival spanned two weekends, I was only able to attend one of the Friday screenings on January 12th.

I would have loved to watch all of the films, but time did not permit me to attend every screening. So my friend and I chose to watch "After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet)", which was directed by Susanne Bier and starred Mads Mikkelsen, a well known Danish actor who also played a supporting role in the recent James Bond movie.
Although it was highly dramatic, After the Wedding was a really beautiful, human story, and I'm not surprised that it just received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film.
The best part about it was that it contained that very Danish element of dark humor, the one which has you feeling awkward and emotionally drained at one moment and full of hilarity at the next. (The best analogy to this technique within American entertainment is seen in the HBO television series Six Feet Under.)
For all you film geeks out there, the movie was somewhat reminiscent of Festen, though not as intense. And Bier kept it light by including the 1982 (thanks, Wikipedia) Weather Girls classic "It's Raining Men" in not one, but two scenes. Is that a European thing?

I really enjoyed watching the movie, a large portion of which was filmed in Copenhagen. Watching the film and listening to the Danish brought back a lot of great memories, although in all honesty, there could have been more bakery scenes! Humor me Susanne Bier!
It was really enjoyable and interesting to be able to speak with other members of the audience after the show. Naturally, we were curious about what led everyone else to this event, to a small theater that screens Scandinavian films for two weeks out of the entire year.
We thanked the organizer of the event for a great film, a man who, as it turns out, is not Scandinavian at all. Much like my friend and I, he said he became involved in the culture through "life experiences."
We also talked with an older fellow for quite awhile about his interest in Scandinavia. After establishing that none of us were Scandinavian, we asked him the next logical question: "So...what brings you here?"
The man, who is a local L.A. actor, spoke openly about his younger days, when he had once fallen in love with a Swedish girl back in the 70's.
We understood. "It happens to the best of us," I said. My friend nodded. Not that I am in the business of falling in love with Swedish girls, nor is my friend who accompanied me to the film festival. But we do understand the charming nature of Scandinavia and its people. If you've been there, you know this charm as well.
During the festival, we threw back a Carlsberg for old times sake. As Denmark's national beer, it was only appropriate that it should be on sale during the event. I can still remember when I had just arrived in Denmark, only a few weeks into my program, when we went to tour the Carlsberg brewery.
They loaded our entire program, mostly Americans, into a big group of buses, and shuffled us into a room with some company representative. He gave us an entertaining presentation about the beermaker's brand, which carries the famous slogan "Probably the best beer in the world."
Then we were shuffled into a huge hall and told that we could drink whatever we wanted, but for only one hour. Needless to say, Carlsberg is one smart brewer, because in all of those wide-eyed barely legal Americans, they found many customers for life by opening up their beer supply to us. And, they gave us a refreshing view of the world by allowing us to be human instead of giving us a one beer limit and worrying about what lawsuits might occur if they dispensed more alcohol. (That's right, people in Denmark just don't sue each other with the litigious zeal of folks in the United States...Imagine how Budwieser could increase its revenues just by giving one hour's worth of beer to a few hundred foreign exchange students!)
No matter how many other beers I may like better, Carlsberg will always be the one that tastes like Denmark, the one that tasted so good ice cold after going outside and pulling it out of the snow at a house party. It was the beer that welcomed me to the country, warmed me on long walks and train rides home, and a beer that made my Danish better with each sip that I drank.
It's just too bad you can't get the seasonal Easter version here in the U.S.
If you want to check out more Scandinavian film, you can try Babette's Feast, which tells the story of a French woman taken in by two old Danish sisters in a small rural Danish town. To my amusement, I discovered that there is a bakery in Long Beach named after this very film, but sadly the bakery's offerings make no comparison to the glorious food featured in the movie. The film can be a bit slow at times, but has an awesome, seriously mouth- watering dinner scene if you're into that sort of thing.
Anyway, thanks to the ASFLA for a great film festival, I will surely be returning next year for more Nordic delight!
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