Denmark Cinematography Part IV

By | December 18, 2021

New trends

The turning point was marked by Weekend (1962) by Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt: although naive in his naturalism, he faithfully represented the aspirations of the new generations for greater sexual freedom. Kjærulff-Schmidt, on the strength of his success, later made Det var engang en krig (1966, Once Upon a Time in a War), perhaps his best work, on the years of German occupation. Gade uden ende (1963, Strada senza fine) by Mogens Vemmer also received a very favorable reception who, inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie (1962), tackled the theme of prostitution. On the other hand, the reception given to Dreyer’s latest work, Gertrud, was unfairly negative(1964), in whose defense Godard and Henri Langlois also intervened. At the same time, the documentary maker Henning Carlsen decided to switch to fictional cinema and gained a certain notoriety with Sult (1966, Fame), who used a style still strongly marked by the experience of the documentary. Years later Carlsen directly faced the reality of Copenhagen’s youth in Man sku ‘være noget ved musikken (1972, One must become familiar with music), one of his most successful works. For Denmark 2005, please check

Starting in 1960, the annual average of films produced rose to twenty, and remained at this level until the end of the 1970s. The 1960s marked a real turning point in the attitude of political authorities towards cinema. In 1961 the Ministry of Culture was created, to which the competence on films, previously entrusted to the Ministry of Justice, was transferred: they were thus officially recognized for the first time as works of art. In 1964, the first modern film law was passed: it allocated the proceeds from the ticket tax to funding for feature films of artistic value and for the management of the Danske Filmmuseum and Danske Filmskole (the film school, opened two years later).

The seventies

In 1972, a new law was passed, which abolished the tax on tickets: since then the funding for the films no longer came from a fund linked to the activity of cinema but from a specific state subsidy managed by a new body, the Danske Filminstitut. Theoretically intended for quality cinema, these subsidies now covered the majority of films, particularly since, in 1981, Nordisk too had to resign itself to asking for State aid. Some very successful and decidedly popular productions could still do without them in the seventies: erotic series such as Sengekant (The bedside), which Palladium began to distribute in 1970, or parodies of the detective genre such as Olsenbanden (The Olsen gang), of which Nordisk made thirteen episodes – all directed by Erik Balling – from 1968 to the early 1980s. The policy of the Danske Filminstitut was later heavily criticized, as public support was reserved for films that often did not find an audience either at home or abroad. Among the few exceptions we should mention the blockbuster Hærværk (1977, Destruction) by Ole Roos, Strømer (1976, Poliziotti) by Anders Refn and Vinterbørn (1978, Born in winter) by A. Henning-Jensen, which was awarded at the Festival of Berlin. At the same time, the tendency to tackle the problems of young people continued, with some noteworthy results as in the cases of Drenge (1976, Ragazzi) by Niels Malmros and Mig og Charly (1977, Charlie and I) by Morten Arnfred and Henning Kristiansen. Of notable impact was also the debut of B. August, Honning måne (1978, Honeymoon), financed by state television.

From the 1980s to the early 21st century

Due to increasingly fierce US competition, the state decided in 1982 to increase public support for production and a quarter was earmarked for children’s films. A true forerunner of the latter genre was Lasse Nielsen’s dark and dramatic La ‘os være (1975, Let Us Live). Later other directors tried to represent the same themes with greater lightness of tone and with a certain humor, as demonstrated by Kunds-kabens træ (1981, The Tree of Knowledge) and Skønheden og udyret (1983, Beauty and the Beast) of Malmros, or August’s Zappa (1983). It was thanks to August that the Denmark regained the international limelight: both Pelle erobreren (1987; Pelle to conquer the world) and Den goda viljan (1991; With Best Intentions) – scripted by Ingmar Bergman – were awarded at Cannes in 1988 and 1992 respectively, and sold worldwide. Axel, who for decades had made films ignored by critics, won an Oscar in 1988 with Babettes gæstebud (1987; Babette’s Feast), from a short story by K. Blixen, but soon returned to anonymity. The social comedies Flamberede hjerter (1987, Cuori flambé) and Syrup (1990, Syrup) by Helle Ryslinge, one of the very few active directors in the country, were of great interest but difficult to export.

The real protagonist of the nineties was L. von Trier who, after Forbrydelsens element (1984; The element of crime), Epidemic (1987) and the television Medea (1988), gained the attention of world critics with Europa (1991), of considerable visual impact and originality. The Grand Jury Prize won at Cannes with Breaking the Waves then confirmed his success(1996; The waves of destiny), strongly indebted to Dreyer’s lesson, in particular for the ending, directly inspired by Ordet. In 1995 he founded the Dogme 95 movement, based on a manifesto signed with Thomas Vinterberg, which was then subjected to several reworkings. The participating directors have undertaken to use a shooting style as far as possible from the artifices of the staging. Beyond the aesthetic qualities of the works ascribed to this movement, their commercial success should be emphasized, a completely new and surprising fact for Denmark. Among the young and promising authors unrelated to Dogme 95, we should especially remember Nicolas Winding Refn, director of the remarkable Pusher (1996), a violent noir, and Bleeder (1999), successfully presented at the Venice Film Festival.

International recognition seems to have arrested the progressive disaffection of the public: after having reached a minimum in the years 1988-1992 with 9 million tickets sold, it then went back up to 11 in the years 1997-2000. Government authorities have also launched new support measures, made necessary by the decline in production, which fell in the 1980s to an average of ten films a year. A 1989 law thus established public funding of 50% (up to 60% since 1997) for any film, regardless of genre and artistic quality. The effects were immediately felt: in the nineties the films rose to fifteen a year. With the new law of 1997, the appropriations were increased by 75%.

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