Long live the “Fresh Flesh” at the Marché du Film
by Marta Bałaga
- CANNES 2020: Forget Nordic noir – for the rising genre filmmakers from the North, it’s all about folklore these days
During the mouth-wateringly named “Fresh Flesh: The Rising Nordic Genre Talents” panel at the Cannes Marché du Film, the filmmakers behind some of the most exciting genre titles set out to scare the bejesus out of the unsuspecting Marché participants – and that’s just by sharing brief synopses of their upcoming projects. But they also engaged in some friendly banter, overseen by moderator Wendy Mitchell, mentioned films that had influenced them (“In the 1950s in Finland, we had The White Deer, a vampire story about a woman taking the form of a deer and killing men,” shared director Hanna Bergholm), and even recommended some shows they had been watching in lockdown, with Penny Dreadful getting some long-overdue love. “I like the name, ‘Fresh Flesh’ – it’s probably a nod to Cronenberg?” wondered Marteinn Thorsson, referring to Videodrome’s iconic “Long live the new flesh” line. Sadly, James Woods was nowhere to be seen.
Trying to figure out new trends in genre storytelling, especially up in the Nordics, the participants also found time to tease their new work. Like Knocking, written by Emma Broström and sold by Bankside, which sees a woman leaving a psychiatric ward after a mental breakdown, only to start hearing mysterious knocking in her apartment. Or Bergholm’s The Hatching – handled by Wild Bunch and scheduled to premiere in 2021, where what hatches from the egg found by a young girl is not exactly an ugly duckling. Yet still, as pointed out by the director, “This disgusting creature is the closest relation she has, the most real and the warmest.” Marc Fussing Rosbach also discussed his Among Us – In the Land of Shadows, one of the first genre films to be made in Greenland. “It’s the first fantasy, sci-fi film,” he underlined, recounting the story of an orphan who, after meeting a shaman, discovers parallel worlds. It is set to be explored further in a sequel, now in post-production. “We dive deeper into his past, his trauma. The theme of the film will be fear.”
There is also plenty to be afraid of in Breeder [+see also:
film profile], already finished and screened at the market, despite writer Sissel Dalgaard Thomsen’s focus on “non-supernatural horror”. “It’s about a woman who is unhappy in her marriage because her husband doesn’t want to have sex with her,” she explained. While trying to figure out what’s going on, she discovers his involvement in bio-hacking experiments. What they don’t know, however, is that women are being kidnapped, held captive and used. The film was directed by Jens Dahl, Thomsen’s husband at the time. “We are not married any more, but we are still friends. He is fascinated by bio-hacking, so he brought that theme, while my angle was the female point of view,” she said. “I wanted to explore things like consent. We have one storyline that’s about a woman who wants something and is not being heard, and another about women who are saying no and they are not being heard either.” Which, it was asked, makes it seem like a feminist film? “It’s about women being abused, and they work together to break free. You can watch it without being interested in feminism, as it’s an entertaining horror, but to me it certainly is.”
Most of the filmmakers admitted to drawing inspiration from their local folklore, like Kjersti Helen Rasmussen in The Nightmare, set to be shot by the end of the year and following a couple moving into an old apartment. When a baby next door dies, the woman’s dreams turn into nightmares. It’s the nightmare demon, trying to seduce her, and then she falls pregnant. So far, so Rosemary’s Baby. “I am very much influenced by 1970s films, but we want to build on Norwegian mythology, too,” said the director. “I discovered that in Norway, the nightmare demon is called ‘mare’ – that’s where the word ‘nightmare’ originates from. There is one in every culture, pestering you in your sleep.” Marteinn Thorsson, behind Recurrence (The Yellow Affair), based his creature on the Icelandic folklore according to which some mothers, usually following a rape, were forced to leave their newborns to die. Only to have them come back. “It’s about a woman whose son disappears from his cradle. She tries to commit suicide and in the hospital is visited by a raven, taking her into the subconscious world. It deals with intergenerational trauma, depression and the oppression of minorities. Udo Kier plays an Irish ghost whose tongue has been cut out – that’s another minority group.”
In other words, local touches are welcome – now more than ever. “Another thing that’s very important is to tell stories in our own language,” said Bergholm. “We did The Hatching in Finnish, and many people told us that no one would buy the film unless it’s in English. It’s important to hear different stories from different cultures; it makes the film world rich.” Certainly richer than the overused “Nordic noir” label. “Anything that can draw attention to Scandinavian films – let’s go for it. But to me, it’s all about whether the story deals with a subject I am interested in, gender or female sexuality, identity...” said Thomsen. “When talking about ‘Nordic genre’, people are looking for something that starts with a body and a cop, and then they discover a murderer. Which is limiting,” said Thorsson, who is now working on his own “Nordic blanc”. “With the success of Let the Right One In [+see also:
interview: John Nordling
interview: Tomas Alfredson
film profile], Troll Hunter [+see also:
interview: Andre Øvredal
film profile] or series like Dark, buyers and distributors should be more open to exploring the genre.” As should the public institutions. “They are starting to be supportive, but it hasn’t been like that in previous years,” Bergholm pointed out. “It has all been very drama-driven, and there is no harm in that. But it’s important to have variety in films.”
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