Danish cinema has become internationally known, mostly due to Lars Von Trier and his controversial movies such as Dogville and Breaking the Waves. While he is one of the most high-profile Danish directors, and we couldn’t avoid including more than one of his films in this list, he isn’t the only one. These 11 controversial films from Denmark will persuade you that Danish cinema isn’t only about Dogme 95 and Lars Von Trier.
A Stranger Knocks (En Fremmed Banker På)
En Fremmed Banker På was released in Denmark in 1959 and is one of the very few films that were banned in the country, because of an explicit sex scene that at the time was perceived as very daring. The story is about a young widowed woman who lives alone in a house in a remote spot in the country. Her life changes when a stranger appears one night out of nowhere.
You Are Not Alone (Du Er Ikke Alene)
You Are Not Alone is about two boys exploring their sexuality at the boarding school they live in, and there would be no reason to include it in this list if it weren’t filmed back in 1978. It was one of the first coming-of-age films and it certainly influenced the genre that is so popular nowadays. In an interview at theskykid, Lasse Nielsen, the director of the film, said that when the movie was released it got mixed reactions, and for several years children under 12 weren’t allowed to watch it.
Antichrist may be Lars Von Trier’s most controversial film, and it surely is the one that divided critics and audience the most. Some called it a masterpiece, while others felt it was a pretentious, misogynistic film, and the product of a depressed director. Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and when it comes to a film, each person perceives it in a unique way. One thing’s for sure: there are some really disturbing scenes that most people find it difficult to watch. It is even said that four people fainted at Cannes Film Festival when the film was shown there. Antichrist is a film about pleasure, fear, pain, birth, loss, good and evil, feelings that are presented through a couple’s life after the death of their toddler.
Lars Von Trier is considered by the cinema world to be one of the most controversial Danish directors, and a look through his career proves that he has fairly earned the title. In Nymphomaniac, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a sex addict, narrates her life’s story to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), a middle-aged man who saved her life when he found her beaten at a pavement close to his house. The reason Trier’s film has been described as provoking and daring by many critics isn’t only the explicit sex scenes (performed by porn doubles) but also the fact that he examines different aspects of sexuality in a bold way.
The Celebration (Festen)
Festen is the first film made under the Dogme 95 rules and was directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of the founders of the Danish film movement. An upper-class family is gathered to celebrate their father’s 60th birthday when his elder son accuses him for raping him and his twin sister when they were children.
The Hunt (Jagten)
When Klara, a kindergarten student, lies that Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), her teacher (who is also her dad’s best friend) sexually abused her, the latter faces the anger of the small Danish village community they live in. In Jagten (The Hunt), Thomas Vinterberg, renowned Danish director and one of the founders of Dogme 95, addresses the issue of pedophilia as he had also done in Festen (The Celebration), and through a strong script and captivating direction, examines human nature. The film, released in 2012, gained critical acclaim and many have described it as one of the best and most raw psychological dramas of the last few years.
The Idiots (Idioterne)
The Idiots is Lars Von Trier’s first Dogme 95 film and is about a group of friends that start behaving as if they are mentally disabled in an attempt to bring their inner ‘idiot’ side to the surface. Due to its theme, but especially due to several explicit sex scenes that in some countries were pixelated, the film was a subject of much debate among the audience and critics, and Trier became once more the center of attention.
Angels in Fast Motion (Nordkraft)
Maria, Allan, and Steso, the main characters in Angels in Fast Motion, are drug addicts who struggle with everyday life and strive to survive in the urban community. Ole Christian Madsen has a created a strong and, for some, even a distressing film that presents the hard city life and the characters’ personal fights.
Breaking the Waves
The first of Trier’s Golden Heart trilogy, Breaking the Waves may not be as eccentric as Nymphomaniac or Antichrist, but it definitely stirred controversy, and even 22 years later, the debate as to whether it is a misogynistic film or not continues. The story is about a young woman, Bess McNeill (Emily Watson), and her loved one Jan (Stellan Skarsgård). When the latter becomes paralyzed after a work accident, he asks his wife to have sex with other men and tell him about her experiences.
A Horrible Woman (En Frygtelig Kvinde)
A Horrible Woman by Christian and Mads Tafdrup portrays the dominant and possessive side of women in a relationship. When Rasmus (Anders Juul) meets Pernille (Carla Mickelborg) he believes he has found the love of his life and the perfect relationship. But things change shortly, with Pernille being very manipulative and taking advantage of Rasmus’ kindness. Christian Tafdrup’s introduction to the movie is, “A true portrait of woman’s dreadful nature,” an opinion that was already implied by the title. Whether he made the movie to take revenge on his own Pernille we can’t tell, but some will definitely see facets of their own relationships in the movie, while others will condemn the director for the way he portrays women.
The Bench (Bænken)
When most people think of Denmark, the first things that come to mind are colorful houses decorated with Scandinavian design, fashionable people happily riding their bikes, and the concept of hygge. The Bench is a movie that will change that. Per Fly gives an insight into how life is for people of the lower classes in Copenhagen through the story of the alcoholic Kaj (Jesper Christensen) and the people that surround him. It’s another side of Denmark many may not be aware of.