Our recent dive-in in Scandinavian movies - not to mention the spell "Haxan" (Benjamin Christensen, 1922) cast on us - left us hungry for more Swedish movies. There are a lot of choices out there, especially on streaming services. Regretfully, very few foreign movies like these make it to your local Art House. The good news is you can still see them on the largest monitor in the comfort of your home.
Someday, every country in the world will have its take on the post-apocalyptic action movie. This Netflix Original is the Swedish entry in the popular genre, even if you can only tell it's Swedish by the language the characters speak. Noomi Rapace - who we recently saw in the Scandinavian horror marvel "Lamb," brought to you by the cool kids at A24 - is the star, which certainly goes a long way to make it worth your time. She plays the role of Caroline Edh, a single mother who watches in horror as masked armed men kidnap her daughter Vanja (Stell Marcimain Klintberg) when society collapses around them. We don't know exactly why the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but after the credits, we have jumped to an undefined time in the future. Caroline is a soldier, enrolled in one of two sides fighting somewhere over something. The lack of definition is not a bug but a feature. "Black Crab" takes this diffuse path towards universality to ensure that anyone worldwide can "identify" with the character's plight.
Caroline is recruited to join a special team of five people, entrusted with delivering a couple of mysterious canisters to a military base in the Arctic North. The catch is that the ocean is frozen so much that skating on the ice is the only way to reach the place. They are the "black crabs" of the title because that's what crabs do! It looks amazing, thanks to the moody cinematography by Jonas Alarik. The group is led by seething Admiral Nordh (Susan Taslimi), icy lieutenant Nylund (Jakob Oftebro), gruff muscleman Malik (Dar Salim), nervous survivor Karim (Ardalan Ismaili), and a shell-shocked young man, Granville (Erik Edge).
The filmmakers do not put time or effort into defining their personalities too much. Once they get together, they are off to the race. In a way, “Black Crab” is a McGuffin searching for a plot. More than classic dystopian films like “Blade Runner” (Ridley Scott, 1982), it is indebted to video games. The team goes through atmospheric locations while exchanging fire with faceless enemies. It’s a kill-of-be-killed kind of situation, and the violence prunes the group steadily. Caroline finds her resolve in the promise of Colonel Read (David Dencik): if she delivers the canisters, she will be reunited with her daughter, who is waiting for her at the base.
Rapace keeps you engaged, even as the movie becomes aggressively generic. Director Adam Berg is unable or unwilling to dig into the world he is creating or engaging with the characters beyond their usefulness for the barely-there plot. First, this happens, and then this happens. Alas, “Black Crab” is handsomely produced. It won three Guldbagge Awards - the Swedish equivalent of the Oscars - for Cinematography, Special Effects, and Production Design. Available to stream on Netflix.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Fares Fares became a successful international actor and anchored the Swedish entry to the 2023 Oscars, “Cairo Conspiracy” (Tarik Saleh, 2022). The fantastic thriller failed to secure the nomination. Still, it was a bright spot in the festival circuit - I was lucky enough to catch it at the Miami International Film Festival -. It’s the kind of movie that, in another time, would become a sure-fire Art House hit, and our cinema market is poorer when movies like this don’t achieve wide release. At least, Fares’ new project is easily available as a Netflix original. Fares directs and stars in “A Day and a Half” (2023). The suspense drama follows a desperate man (Alex Manvelov) who kidnaps his estranged wife (Alma Poysti) when he loses custody of their kid. Fares is the policeman who goes along with the desperate couple to save the man from himself. It’s his directorial debut. Poysti is having her day on the international scene, starring in Finnish master Aki Kaurismake’s latest “Fallen Leaves.” Available to stream on Netflix.
It is a high-concept comedy about a middle-aged couple and their friends facing changing sexual mores in a never-ending search for happiness. The backbone of the plot is the marital crisis of Bjorn (Davi Dencik) and Frida (Pia Tjelta). Friends and lovers enter their gravitational pull, including Danish actor Claes Bang, better known for his work in the Palm d’Or winning satire “The Square” (Ruben Ostlund, 2017). Fanciful sketches interrupt the action occasionally, placing the characters as participants in live-action dioramas that comment on the issues they face and their attitudes. Available to stream on Netflix.
Since a Grindhouse impresario introduced US audiences to Ingmar Bergman by exhibiting a torpidly re-edited version of “Summer With Monika” (1953) to emphasize nudity, there is a belief that the Swedes are not shy about sex in movies. This conviction has more to do with American prudishness than anything else. Still, then again, from time to time, we get movies like “The Year I Started Masturbating,” and you know Hollywood would never do anything like this, ever.
Things are more relaxed now. Issa Rae gave us the “broken pussy” song in the first episode of her comedy series “Insecure.” “The Year I Started Masturbating” is right up that alley. It’s a romantic comedy about a middle-aged woman who finds sexual liberation after her wet blanket of a husband dumps her. Katia Winter was nominated for Best Actress in the 2023 Guldbagge Awards. Available to stream on Netflix.
Yeah, about sexual frankness in Swedish film…this indie movie, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, follows an up-and-coming porn actress that travels to California to find her place in the adult film industry. Director Ninja Thyberg and lead actress Sofia Kappel find a precarious balance between recognizing the dignity of the people who engage in sex work and dramatizing the perils of an industry where your body is a means of production. Also, they don’t play coy about showing what goes down in a porn movie set. Think of a bolder, more frank update of “Boogie Nights” (1997) for the social media era.
The movie was nominated for seven Guldbagge Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. Kappel took the prize for Best Actress. Available to rent or buy on most of the major streaming services. Available to stream on Paramount+ and Showtime. Rent or buy on most streaming platforms.
Sweden’s 2017 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is a movie so in tune with the styles and beats of Hollywood’s comedy dramas that its remake, “A Man Called Otto” (Marc Forster, 2022), feels like an afterthought, even with Tom Hanks in the starring role. The original features Rolf Lassgård as a dour retiree recuperating a taste for life by establishing against his will a friendship with his younger neighbors. The movie was also nominated for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. Available to stream on Prime Video. Rent or buy on most streaming platforms.
This is a fascinating, insightful documentary contemplating the ethics of preserving nature for posterity in museums and zoos. Director Albin Albin Biblom has an extensive career as a cinematographer - his latest camera work graces “Joyce Carol Oates: A Body In The Service of a Mind” (Stig Bjorkman, 2021), a fascinating look at the award-winning American writer -. His insightful eye contemplates animals in cages or preserved as taxidermy models in museum displays with scientific detachment as he interrogates historians, philosophers, and zoologists about what it means to capture nature in such a way as we do our darkest to extinguish it outside the sad space of these institutions. Available on Popflick, your best source to watch independent movies online.
A documentary that explores our complex relationship with nature itself and our contradictory behavior of caging what we fear may be lost.Stream Now
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