Once in a while, the countries of Scandinavia beget freaks—the wild energy of the Björks, Kaurismäkis, and von Triers counterbalances the cool restraint of the Bergmans, Ullmanns, and Augusts. The omnicultural Scandinavia House (58 Park Avenue, 779-3587) is a space in which Nordic cultural bipolarity can play itself out. Architect James Stewart Polshek’s intentionally unimposing six-story structure exudes hospitable anonymity, featuring zinc, glass, and spruce on the exterior, with birch, curved wooden walls, and painted blue slats indoors.
Not surprisingly, the first and second film series in the underground Victor Borge Hall (donor Borge died on December 23) both open with daring works. Inaugurating November’s Icelandic series was notorious party animal Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s Angels of the Universe, which focuses on a schizophrenic and his pals in a mental institution. “Dogma and Beyond: Recent Films From Denmark,” the second of five national series (still to come: films from Norway, Sweden, and Finland) opens January 10 with the fourth of the iconoclastic Dogme ’95 pictures: Kristian Levring’s misanthropic English-language film The King Is Alive. Set in the Namibian desert, it follows a group of stranded tourists who create a production of King Lear as a desperate survival tactic. An expected exercise in handheld camera, real locations, and improvised acting, The King Is Alive feels secondhand, but is a must for pure Dogmatists. The four-film exhibition concludes January 31 with Jesper Jargil’s documentary The Exhibited, a look at von Trier’s installation-cum-performance piece Psychomobile #1: The World Clock, in which the moods of 53 characters in 19 rooms shift according to the movements of ants in New Mexico.
More naturalistic but just as provocative is Lasse Spang Olsen’s In China They Eat Dogs (January 24). According to Scandinavia House film programmer Jytte Jensen, who plans less nation-bound, more cross-pollinated films in the future, the movie is a ” ‘drengerovs film,’ or ‘bad-boy film’—though drengerovs translates literally into ‘boy’s ass’—a genre that is popular in Danish theater.” A geeky, soft-spoken bank clerk (Dejan Cukic), remorseful over having foiled a robbery that sent a man to jail, reunites with his estranged ex-con brother (Kim Bodnia). A failed attempt to dynamite the thief out of prison is only the first of several bungled efforts, all blackly comic, to right the perceived wrong. Spang Olsen makes concessions to neither propriety nor political correctness. Having directed F/X and stunt sequences for over 300 movies, here he saves the fantastic effects for the end, but the stunts—car collisions and explosions that top most Hollywood action flicks—run throughout. Naturally, it has been bought for American remake rights.
A Place Nearby (January 17), directed by Kaspar Rostrup, features his Waltzing Regitze star Ghita Norby in a performance both raw and nuanced; she plays a tough, middle-aged shopkeeper guilty of smotherly love. After her autistic son (the amazing Thure Linhardt) becomes the prime suspect in a young woman’s murder, Mom takes on the investigating detective like a fierce lioness protecting her cub. Danish cinema, obviously, is more than Dogme; Scandinavia House is a local safe haven.