Scandinavian cinematography has always been interesting. Ingmar Bergman’ name has always been the first association with it. He is still the most famous Scandinavian director, but new names have been starting to appear on the credit list in the last twenty years.
Denmark with its crime movies and thrillers. Sweden with a quirky sense of humor and an artistic side. Norway with an inclination towards horrors and dark and very often dark Finnland.
It is a delight discovering a somewhat newer cinematography and enjoying something different than we are used to. This is the list of the 15 best Scandinavian movies of all time.
Seventh Seal (1957)
An ultimate classic and probably the first movie which comes to mind when someone mentions Swedish cinematography. Directed by the most famous Scandinavian director, Ingmar Bergman, this movie is an excellent introduction into everything they can offer us.
This interesting and way ahead of its time fantasy drama is so compelling that it won’t allow you any rest. The game of chess has never been so intriguing. Death approaches a knight who is back home from the crusades and tells him his time has come. But the knight challenges Death to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives.
There is so much more to this movie than a game of chess. It is an allegory of life and death and a look at the society after the great plague.
The Hunt (2012)
Probably one of the most talked about Scandinavian movies in the last decade. It stars one of the biggest Danish and international movie stars at the moment. Mads Mikkelsen is an absolute hit nowadays. But he has been a big star in Denmark for a very long time.
This movie is such an emotional turmoil. Extremely touching and moving, it shows what an innocent lie can do to a man’s life. Lucas is a kindergarten teacher who has devoted his life to his students. But when a little girl says a bit too much about him, his world crumbles and he soon becomes the biggest outcast in their town.
And as if this wasn’t enough, he is in the middle of a custody battle for his son. Soon his reality becomes a nightmare and he has to deal with everything before it’s too late.
Let the Right One In (2008)
This is such a peculiar movie, very slowly narrated and pretty deep. With a supernatural element that can easily be perceived as reality, it won’t leave you indifferent. You might not like it, you might absolutely adore it, but you will definitely feel something after you see it.
Everything around this movie is ambiguous. It is dark and slow, the setting is depressive and its main characters are everything but ordinary. Oskar is a bullied 12-year old boy who can’t take it anymore. He befriends and falls in love with a beautiful, but strange girl Eli. She needs to be invited to enter a house, she can’t stand the sun and soon Oscar discovers her unbelievable secret.
Eli helped him a lot to fight back, but soon his love towards her isn’t enough. What if she is too much for Oscar, but also a great danger to everyone around her?
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Based on a Swedish bestseller by one of their most famous writers, Stieg Larssen, this is a movie which is not better than the book but is pretty close to it. Keeping the bleak and gloomy atmosphere of the novel, it immediately transfers us to the mysterious story and its complex characters.
An antisocial financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and a peculiar computer genius Lisbeth Salander find themselves in one of the most intriguing crime cases in their country. It dates forty years back in the past. It deals with the disappearance of a young girl, a member of a powerful Venger clan. Blomkvist and Salander discover that her disappearance is connected to a number of gruesome murders forty years ago.
They couldn’t have even imagined what they would get themselves into. The Venger clan is very, very powerful and wants some secrets to be buried. This is the first part of the MIllenium trilogy, but the other two parts, even though pretty good, didn’t live up to the expectations after the novels.
Babette’s Feast (1987)
A Danish classic and the first Danish movie to win an Academy Award for best international foreign film. A drama about two sisters in a 19th century remote Danish village who spend their young lives taking care of their father and his church. They missed so many opportunities, rejected suitors and lost a lot.
Many years later, their father is deceased and they take in a French Refugee, Babette who starts working for them as their servant. After winning the Lottery, Babette offers to cook them a French meal and invite their friends. As it often happens at these gatherings, many secrets and unwanted confessions come to light and disrupt everyone’s reality.
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Lars von Trier is a Danish visionary, famous for many unusual and progressive movies. Many won’t like them, but we cannot deny his artistic side and utmost originality and creativity.
This movie is very difficult to watch and it might be a bit too much due to its topic. Somewhere in the North of Scotland, in a big religious community, a young and naive Beth meets a Danish oil- rig worker Jan. They fall in love and Bess has her wishes for the future. Jan comes back indeed, but is paralyzed from neck down.
They are unable to enjoy and develop their sexual relationship and Jan decided that Beth should engage in sexual intercourses with other men. But also tell him about them. Soon Beth becomes bolder in her encounters, assured that she is helping Jan that way, And most importantly that God is aiding her.
An action packed movie, full of adrenaline. Roger is a successful businessman who leads a life of luxury. But he needs to keep it like that and soon becomes involved in a second job. This one is of course illicit and soon it becomes obvious that this decision would bring more problems than good.
Based on the novel by one of the most famous Norwegian crime writers Jo Nesbø, this action thriller will definitely give you a few jumps. But it is also a clever and interesting story of deceit and secrets. Fast and never boring, it is a thriller you will recommend to many.
Lilja 4 – ever (2002)
A very strong and serious drama about one of the biggest criminal organizations in the world, the one involving sex trafficking. Olja was a normal 16 year old Russian girl, fantasizing about life in the USA. But as she realizes that her new life is not going to happen, she falls in love with a Swedish boy.
He is moving to Sweden and wants her to come with him. Everything is peachy there, she will get a job, a flat and a new life. And she gets it indeed. But only the latter. A life she didn’t want.
This is a disturbing drama that will give you chills and make you think twice about some of your decisions.
Dancer In the Dark (2000)
Lars von Trier is definitely a name that needs to be mentioned numerous times when we mention Scandinavian cinematography. This musical drama really echoed internationally and triggered us immensely when it came out.
A story about a Czechoslovakian immigrant Selma and her son who live in the 1960s in Washington state. Selma has a big secret that will change her and her son’s lives. But almost everyone in this small town has their own problems. And they must try to do as best as possible to deal with them.
A heartbreaking story of ordinary people who are faced with life changing situations and merciless destinies. A beautiful movie that will make you cherish and evaluate what you have. The eccentric Icelandic singer Bjork excelled as Selma, followed by a cast of great supporting actors.,
Ingmar Bergman simply needs to be mentioned more than once here. His eerie drama thriller about a nurse who needs to take care of a mute actress is a must see. It goes into human’s mind and tries to show us how certain individuals function and how far they are capable of going to get what they want.
A young nurse Alma comes to nurture a famous actress Elisabeth who doesn’t want to talk.
Alma speaks to Elisabeth all the time and shares with her more than needed. Elisabeth knows a lot and soon Alma will figure out that there is too much of her personality inside Elisabeth’s persona.
Adam’s Apples (2005)
There are those movies that can make a comedy out of a very serious topic. Here we have a case of interesting individuals who come together in an unforgettable tale of spite and tenacity. Ivan is weird, he believes he is in a war with Satan, but still sees the world through pink glasses. His church is known for the apple trees that grow in front of it.
Ivan must welcome a convict Adam who needs to stay there for 12 weeks. Nothing goes as expected at the beginning. Adam is a Neo Nazi who is baffled by Ivan’s optimism and has problems with his faith which he wants to break. But he makes a personal goal, as well, to bake an apple pie. And this is where their relationship starts to develop.
A Man Called Ove (2015)
Based on a bestselling novel by the Swedish hitmaker Fredrik Backman, this movie will make you laugh and cry at the same time. It will remind you that you need to think twice before you act. And that there are still people who are there for you.
Ove is a grumpy 59 year old man who is tired of life. He is fed up with the society, with his neighborhood and people around him. Pedantic and a perfectionist, everything bothers him and he pushes people away. But somehow they are constantly sticking to him. There is always someone who needs him and it seems that Ove is so much more than he believes.
When a young family moves next door and starts invading his privacy, Ove will slowly start to change his personality and see that the world is not as bad as he has been thinking these past years.
After the Wedding (2006)
A deep and thoughtful drama, with the talented Mads Mikkelsen as the main character. Jacob lives and works in India, takes care of orphans and even adopted a little Indian boy. He is called to Copenhagen to deal with an organization that might help his orphanage survive. He plans to return for his son’s birthday, after taking care of everything in Denmark.
He meets with people who will help him and gets invited to a wedding where they will discuss it in detail. And the moment after the wedding is when everything will change for Jacob. One wedding speech will crash his life and he will realize that he is not to go back to India anymore.
Land of mine (2015)
An interesting view on the Danish war crimes during WWII. This was later denounced as the worst war crime by the Danish government ever. In the post WWII period, the Danish government put many young German soldiers to work on 1,5 million landmines on the country’s western beaches.
Sgt. Rasmussen becomes responsible for one of the beaches where he learns that the boys are almost children and therefore without experience. We start to witness a change in a previously strict and tough soldier whose hate towards Germans slowly weakens as he sees the situation these young soldiers are in.
The Unknown Soldier (1955)
Even though maybe not as famous and well known as other Scandinavian cinematography, Finland has also given us some memorable movies. The Unknown Soldier is definitely one worth mentioning.
We learn a bit more about the conflicts between Finland and the Soviet Union. It is 1941 and Finland attacks the Soviet Union to regain their lost territory. We follow a story of a few Finnish soldiers who need to overcome all the obstacles, such as the deaths of their comrades in order to achieve their goal. They reach Lake Onega, but then everything starts falling apart.