September has kept us very busy in the build up to festival season with Nordic Watchlist covering Fantastic Fest, Nordisk Panorama Festival, and the upcoming London International Film Festival.
We still managed to squeeze in some time for other films this month, and Glen gives his short review of Jo Nesbø’s new horror ‘The Night House.’
Here is our Nordic Watchlist for September 2023:
Sisu | Finland | DVD, Bluray, and Digital
Sisu finally hit our digital screens and we also got hold of a copy of the film to add to our growing Nordic film collection.
If you are looking for a lot of bloody silly fun then look no further than Sisu. The film certainly does not disappoint when it comes to violence and gore – perhaps a far cry from the director’s previous films.
The story? A group of Nazis escaping conflict pick a fight with the wrong guy.
A Day and a Half | Sweden | Netflix
The month started off with Fares Fares’ directorial debut film A Day and a Half which stars himself and the excellent Alexej Manvelov and Alma Poysti.
We were really impressed with all the performances in this film and the way in which the story unfolds – given that this is Fares’ first attempt at directing a feature film I think he has an incredibly exciting future ahead of him both in front of and behind the camera.
Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction | Denmark | Netflix
To continue a real mix of films this month we also have Bille August’s period comedy Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction.
This film was a lot of fun if you are looking for something more light-hearted. We see the wonderful Sidse Babette Knudsen’s playing a Grand Duchess alongside Mikkel Boe Følsgaard’s character Cazotte, a portrait painter.
They plot together to find a wife for the Grand Duchess’ son and then Cazotte sets his sights on seducing high-society hard-to-reach Alice Bier Zandén‘s character, Ehrengard.
Expect plenty of costumes, designed by the Queen of Denmark herself, and lots of other recognisable faces to spot.
The Night House by Jo Nesbø | Glen Pearce Review
Words have the ability to influence lives, to both wound and heal. But what if those words take over your life?
In The Night House, translated by Neil Smith, Norwegian superstar author Jo Nesbø, best known for the immensely successful Harry Hole series, turns his attention to the horror genre.
Nesbø takes the reader on an atmospheric trip through trauma, repressed memory, and a shifting viewpoint that invites the reader to contemplate what true horror is. Nesbø also questions what it means to be a writer and for whom writers write; is it a cathartic process, or does rewriting suppressed memories conceal some deeper horror?
There are echoes of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, hints to Stephen King, and an almost cinematic sense to the work, but Nesbø ‘s take on the horror genre takes its own winding path.
While readers expecting the fast-paced action of the Harry Hole series may find this plot slower and heavier going, the richness of detail and exploration of language, memory, and evil is worth the effort; while not a slasher horror, it is equally as unsettling.
Mirror Image by Gunnar Staalesen | Glen Pearce Review
A detective in a Nordic Noir novel has a tough time of it. An investigator rarely gets to work on a straightforward case, and when they do, there are frequently more puzzles and turns than a Norwegian mountain road.
Gunnar Staalesen’s Mirror Image, the latest entry in his popular Varg Veum series, is no exception. What seems like a simple missing person case at first turns into a complicated probe into a missing couple and some questionable business dealings.
Veum has to navigate decades-old family secrets, which seems to be an occupational hazard for Nordic detectives. Here, unresolved childhood trauma and memories of events from 36 years ago keep coming back to haunt the protagonist.
It’s a great setting for a novel, and Staalesen proves himself to be a founding father of Nordic Noir with his complex yet accessible plotting. Staalesen’s signature style (brought to vivid life in a phenomenally readable and refreshing translation by Don Bartlett) gives equal weight to setting and protagonist. The city of Bergen itself takes on a life of its own as a character in this intricate puzzle.
This novel, originally published in Norway as Som i et speil in 2002 and primarily set in 1993, has finally made it to an English audience after 21 years. Because of the passage of time, the story now reads almost like a classic. The detectives working on this case will have to put in more effort than their modern-day counterparts, who need only press a few buttons to access enormous criminal databases. It is a credit to the author, though, that the novel doesn’t feel dated and yet manages to keep the reader engaged throughout.
Staalesen’s Veum has several similarities to Christie’s Hercule Poirot, which may explain the box office success of Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot remakes. They both have excellent observational skills and are able to infer as much about a person from their outward appearance and behaviour as from what they hear them say.
While fans of the long-running Varg Veum series (which began in 1979) will be happy to see one of Norway’s most celebrated literary detectives return in Mirror Image and will enjoy diving deeper into this complex character, the novel also stands well on its own as a compelling mystery that will keep readers guessing right up until the end.
Mirror Image by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett, is out now published by Orenda Books.
What Nordic series, films, and books have you been enjoying this month? Let us know in the comments below!