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Great Norwegian Movies Everyone Should See

Great Norwegian Movies Everyone Should See

Picture of Marcus Clark
Updated: 5 December 2016
Norway has often been overshadowed by its Scandinavian neighbours Denmark and Sweden on the European art-house scene. Whilst it lack the auteurs of its neighbours, Norway nonetheless produces compelling genre films that offer an insight into its culture and history.

Kon-Tiki (1950)

Currently the only Norwegian feature film to have won an Academy Award, Kon-Tiki is the name of the makeshift wooden vessel manned by Norwegian scientist Thor Heyerdahl and his crew. To prove his theory that Polynesia was first populated by the ancient civilisation of the Incas, Heyerdahl aims to re-create the Incas’ journey there over the thousands of nautical miles and bounding waves of the Pacific Ocean. After more than sixty years this remarkable documentary still holds up today. While the black and white footage and narration of the 101 day journey may seem a little dated, the evocation of the trials and difficulties faced by the voyagers injects a human quality. This is the ultimate adventure of a man willing to risk his life for a cause that he believes in.

Lake of the Dead (1958)

One of the original “bad place” horror films of the 1950s, Lake of the Dead centres on six friends from Oslo who find themselves occupying a haunted cabin in the middle of a ghoulish and ghastly secluded forest. The group start to succumb to the powers that lurk beneath the waters of the nearby lake. Kåre Bergstrøm’s direction still has the power to shock and scare. Featuring a cast of seasoned actors from stage and screen, including Henki Kolstad, Henny Moan, as well as the writer of the source novel André Bjerke, Lake of the Dead is arguably Norway’s greatest horror film.

Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (1975)

Based on a series of books and cartoons by cherished Norwegian author Kjell Aukrust, Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is the most recognised and financially successful national film of all time, having sold 5.5 million tickets since its release. The charming stop-motion action pursues eccentric inventor Reodor Felgen, who endeavours to build a fantastical race car after discovering that his former protégé Rudolf Blodstrupmoen has become a world class Formula One driver. The Norwegian equivalent of Wallace & Gromit, Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is loved by adults and children alike and shown on national television every Christmas. Directed by Ivo Caprino and his team over three and half years, it’s a staple of the Norwegian cinematic and cultural diet.

Insomnia (1997)

Scandinavian countries are masters of the crime thriller and Norway appears to be no exception. One thing that usually makes them stand out is the snow-covered wastelands and rugged mountains of the Scandinavian landscape. Insomnia is a case in point: a psychological film noir involving two Kripos detectives tracking down the murderer of a 17-year-old girl. The case takes them to a barren spot where abandoned wooden shacks provide only a modicum of shelter from wraith-like figures, which may or may not be real. Erik Skjoldbjærg utilises such typical set pieces to produce knife-edge tension, and he’s aided by a nuanced performance by Swedish acting don Stellan Skarsgård.

Elling (2001)

Directed by Peter Naess, and based on the novel Blood Brother by Ingvar Ambjornsen, Elling is one of three Norwegian films to be nominated for an Academy Award. Shot primarily in and around Oslo, it tells how, after the death of his mother, misunderstood autistic 40-year-old Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) ends up getting dumped in a state institution. Released several years later with new-found friend Kjell (Sven Nordin), he begins to learn that independence can be found in unusual places. Highlighting the condition of the Norwegian welfare system, Elling is enlightening in its examination of the ambiguity of state responsibility.

Kitchen Stories (2003)

Kitchen Stories is a surreal tale inspired by post-war scientific research into the efficiency of Swedish housewives. Writer-director Bent Hamer turns the tables, placing Norwegian males under the microscope of their Swedish neighbours. An omniscient cosmic observer Folke Nilsson (Thomas Norström) must sit and watch his selected subject on a raised high chair while any form of interaction is strictly forbidden. The overarching message is that national boundaries and stereotypes cannot be removed without mutual interaction. Charmingly poking fun at nuances and sensibilities from both countries as well as critiquing grandiloquent scientific pomposity, Kitchen Stories is a must-see.

Reprise (2006)

Pining writers Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) are locked in a heated competition to ignite their literary careers. When Phillip’s work turns him into an overnight sensation, the pitfalls of love, fame, prestige, and wealth undermine their aspirations and reveal their insecurities. Influenced by the revered post-war Norwegian poet Tor Ulven (upon whom one of the characters is also based), director Joachim Trier’s film is intoned with a literary quality. Safely traversing the quagmire of pretentiousness, Reprise is an honest and emotionally charged guidebook on coming of age.

Max Manus Man of War (2008)

Max Manus Man of War offers significant insight into the Norwegian resistance movement during World War Two. The premiere of this biopic of the nation’s principal war hero was attended by the country’s monarch, Manus’s widow, and the last surviving member of his underground group. Exhibiting a genuine feel of 1940s authenticity, the film was praised for its realism, which involved going so far as to fly the Swastika from Oslo’s parliament building. The film did spark controversy, however, in regards to its accuracy and questions were raised concerning the actual effectiveness of Norway’s resistance movement. For some the film was too black and white, lacking any nuance or ambiguity in Manus’s character.

Oslo, August 31st (2011)

Depicting a day in the life of a recovering Norwegian drug addict, director Joachim Trier’s second outing guides the audience on through the nation’s capital with a deeply affecting soul at the helm. Walking out of a job interview after admitting his past misdeeds, the nearly rehabilitated Anders (Anders Danielson Lie) wanders the streets of Oslo meeting old friends and confronting the demons of his past and present. Trier and Anders fully understood what was at stake when developing the film’s protagonist, who must reflect on what he’s lost and will never get back. Sympathetic and sobering, this is the best Norwegian art house film in recent memory.

Headhunters (2011)

Based on the novel by the popular Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, Headhunters follows Roger Brown (Askel Hennie), a man at the peak of his profession. His earnings are not enough to support his indulgent lifestyle, however, so he steals valuable works of art as a hobby. After a job goes awry, his untouchable status is threatened and his deceitful private life revealed. Directed by Moten Tydlum, the film draws its strengths from being able to produce old-fashioned thrills and spills without the use of special effects. .