Norway took a while longer than its continental neighbours to establish a domestic film industry. The turn-of-the-century Norwegian cinemagoer happily consumed output from Denmark, Sweden and France, whilst the country’s artisans set about creating their own cinematic culture.
(Pictured, above: The King's Choice, 2017)
The recorded history of Norway’s earliest films lacks clarity; in 1906, or 1908, a film that may have been called Fiskerlivets farer (Dangers of a Fisherman’s Life) or Et drama paa havet (A Drama at Sea) was made, although none of it has survived. In 1911, Halfdan Nobel Roede’s Fattigdommens forbandelse (The Curse of Poverty), a titillating melodrama that borrowed many of Swedish and Danish cinemas key elements, i.e. urban settings, eroticism, a free-spirit, proved a hit in the large cities. Production continued in fits-and-starts – Waldemar Hansen’s Bagtalelsens gift (The Clown’s Revenge, 1912) and Peter Lykke-Seest Æresgjesten (1919) provided cinemagoers with all-too-rare glimpses into contemporary Norway; the short film Daemonen (pictured, below) stired debate for its portryal of upper-class hedonism.
It was not until 1920 and the release of Rasmus Breistein’s Fante-Anne (Gypsy Anne) that distinctive traits that would emerge in Norwegian cinema. The film – a rural-set tale of an orphan overcoming hardships, with the majesty of the countryside as its backdrop and the essentially good nature of the country’s landfolk celebrated in hearty characterisations – created a genre of outdoorsy, moralistic, nationalistic films (Erling Eriksen’s Kjærlighet på pinde, 1922; Harry Iversen’s Til sæters, 1924; and Breistein’s much-revered Brudeferden i Hardan/The Bridal Part in Harden, 1926).
The 1930’s saw the Norwegian film industry boom and public acceptance of representations of themselves become established. Tancred Ibsen’s 1931 film Den store barnedåpen (The Great Christening) was the country’s first ‘talkie’. The growing hunger for new films saw a successful period of literary adaptations engulf the Norwegian sector – the prolific Rasmus Breistein released Skjærgårdsflørt (1932), sourced from the popular play of the same name; John W. Brunius directed En glad gutt (The Good Boy, 1932), based on Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson much-loved novel; Helge Lunde’s Sangen om Rondane (1934) warmed the hearts of those who remembered the novel fondly.
The Nazi occupation of Norway, and the accompanying censorship that impacted Norwegian cinema, had a long-lasting impact upon the nation’s film culture. Lost was the innocence of the country’s motion picture output, with the national cinema becoming dogmatic under German HQ directives. A national film directorate was formed, providing a body that oversaw film production, even if the output of the early years was propagandistic. By the end of the war and with the dissipation of Nazi rule, a cinema industry of well-trained technicians and craftsmen existed that would help launch the next great era of Norwegian filmmaking.
In 1949, Norway’s first and greatest female director, Edith Carlmar, made her first film, the noir-inspired thriller Døden er et kjærtegn (in full, above). A major hit that sparked debate and outrage as to its central character – Norway’s first sexually-aggressive femme fatale, played by Bjorg Riiser-Larsen – the film turned Carlmar into a national celebrity. She would make films for another ten years and is credited with discovering a young actress named Liv Ullman, who made her debut in Carlmar’s final film, 1959’s Ung flukt (The Wayward Girl).
This prosperous period changed Norwegian film forever. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, the careers of some of Norway’s finest filmmakers were launched. The great Arne Skaaren, who directed 17 films, including the Oscar nominated Ni liv/Nine Lives, in 1957 – a film most believe to be the crowning achievement of Norwegian cinema; the magical puppet-movies of Ivo Caprino (pictured, right), an artist considered a national treasure in Norway and who, from his first short film Tim og Toffe in 1949, would make the most successful movie in Norway’s history – 1975’s marionette extravaganza Flåklypa Grand Prix (Pinchcliffe Grand Prix); and the documentary filmmaker Thor Heyerdahl, who’s first-person account of his global raft trip, Kon-Tiki (1952), won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Though the young Norwegian filmmakers of the 1960’s tried to follow in the footsteps of the French New Wave (most notably with Erik Løchen’s Jakten/The Chasers, 1959, and Pål Løkkeberg’s Liv/Life, 1967), it was not as commercially successful nor as artistically influential of the New Wave movements that swept Europe. It was not until a period of social-realism in the 1970’s, reflecting an increasingly fractured and dissatisfied population, that Norwegian cinema found its most resonant voice. Oddvar Bull Tuhus’ Streik (Strike, 1974) and Wam and Vennerød’s Det tause flertall (The Silent Majority, 1977), as well as the first film of Anja Briein’s landmark Hustru (Wives) trilogy, spoke in harsh tones and portrayed a Norway decaying, suffering through social over-crowding and an abandonment of the traditions that had created the national identity.
(Above: Pål Sletaune's Budbringeren/Junk Mail, 1997)
Things lightened up in the 1980’s and Norwegian filmmakers rediscovered the joys of genre filmmaking. Norway’s most popular films throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s included the international hits of Ola Solum (Orions belte/Orion’s Belt, 1985, and Landstrykere/Vagabonds, 1989), Nils Gaup (the Oscar-nominated Veiviseren/The Pathfinder, 1987), Martin Asphaug (En håndfull tid/A Handful of Time, 1989), Erik Gustavson (Telegrafisten/The Telegraphist, 1993), Hans Petter Moland (Kjærlighetens kjøtere/Zero Kelvin, 1996), Berit Nesheim (the Oscar-nominated Søndagsengler/The Other Side of Sunday, 1996) and Pål Sletaune (Budbringeren/Junk Mail, 1997, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics Week prize).
The new millennium ushered in unique visions from a new, young breed of Norwegian filmmakers. Names that have exploded onto the world stage include Tommy Wirkola (Død Snø/Dead Snow, 2009), Andre Ovredal (Trolljegeren/Troll Hunter, 2010), Jens Lien (Den brysomme mannen /The Bothersome Man, 2007), Roar Uthaug’s (Fritt vilt/Cold Prey, 2008; Bolgen/The Wave, 2015), Morten Tyldum (Hodejegerne/Headhunters, 2011), Aleksander Nordaas (Thale, 2013), Petter Naess (Tatt av kvinnen /Gone With The Woman, 2008), Marius Holst (Kongen av Bastøy/King of Devil’s Island, 2010), Anne Sewitsky (Sykt lykkelig/Happy Happy, 2010; pictured, right) and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Max Manus, 2008).
Norway now boasts a vibrant and distinct Scandanavian film voice; Zaradasht Ahmed’s Nowhere to Hide (trailer, below) won the coveted Best Feature Length Documentary at the 2016 International Documentary Film Festival. More importantly, the Norwegian people are more willing than ever to embrace the national cinematic output – in 2007, Vinterland/Winterland from director Hisham Zaman was a box office hit...despite a running time of less than an hour. Erik Poppe’s historical epic The King’s Choice, amongst the final nine titles in consideration for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, is a blockbuster in its homeland.
Oslo International Film Festival – Oslo, Norway; November
In addition to the traditionally strong line-up of films from the Nordic countries, the Oslo International Film Festival embraces international independent features, shorts and documentaries. The chosen event to premiere Norwegian films, the Festival was founded in 1990 and is run in conjunction with Oslo Kino and Norwegian Film Institute.
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