Photograph: Movie Time / Midnight Sun Film Festival / IMDB / Den Danske Filminstitut / DR
Text: Dominic J Stevensen
The Nordic Christmas scene has become something of a fascination for me in recent years. They cannot make priceless ones fast enough, naturally; nor can the huge money-wielding machines of countries like the US with their now-perennial annual seasonal releases. 'A good/decent Christmas film (even some rubbish ones) can be a serious money-spinner.
This desire to find sparkling festive movies means delving into the past, where I found several Finnish gems and some worthwhile Danish ones, to also aid in learning the language as well as getting one into the gay spirit (or to get people ready for seven shades of hell to break loose at Christmas time – some people love a good celebration by inviting turmoil over for a somewhat-singed Christmas dinner). I found films from different eras that I will revisit repeatedly over the years, share with my children, and revel in time and again. On the other side, some will easily slip from my memory.
I am also hunting the Swedish, Icelandic, and Norwegian to give myself an accurate idea of traditional Nordic and Danish. However, it is often the case that English-language subtitles are nowhere in sight, and it is problematic to even catch a highly recommended film.
I will start with the Finnish classic Joulutarina (2007). It is an extraordinary film and story so beautifully told, so Scandinavian in its inherent magic, I almost felt I glided across the elegant snow, a part of the scenery that witnessed the passing of the tale of Saint Nicholas. It is a genuinely delightful picture that not only encapsulates the majesty of the joyous period but also somehow goes far beyond it, too, the warm human aspect at its very core astounding. Everybody should see it at least once. Following that, Finnish wonders to stand out are dated but still spell-like, The White Reindeer – a haunting horror-folk tale from 1952 – and the more recent and madcap Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010). They show abundantly clearly that nobody does Christmas like the Finns do.
Owing to all the modern platforms to watch films and TV on, it feels like you get left behind if you do not subscribe to all of them. This has me unable, at present, to witness some festive flicks I have heard and seen good things about. It would be great to catch last year’s merry Finnish entry Kulkuset Kulkuset (Jingle Bells) or the recent Swedish spin-off Long Live the Bonus Family from a popular TV series.
Closer to home in Denmark, Den Tid På Året, by and starring Danish powerhouse Paprika Steen, is a feisty Christmas cracker, reminding us once again that getting the family together over the holiday period can cause unexpected fireworks. Julefrokosten (The Christmas Party) is a slapstick comedic riot featuring Danish legends Thure Lindhardt, ex-supermodel Helena Christensen, Kim Bodnia, Ghita Nørby, Søren Malling, and Anders W Berthelsen.
Another film that stands out is Echo, an Icelandic series of vignettes based around Christmas. Hailing from Nottingham, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Robin Hood-esque 2021 Swedish film, Sagan om Karl-Bertil Jonssons julafton, in which a post office worker takes gifts from the rich to give to the poor citizens of Stockholm in a merry romp for all the family.
For the younger viewers, there is the trilogy (thus far) of films, Julemandens datter (All I Want for Christmas) and Little Brother, Big Trouble: A Christmas Adventure, which involved the clubbing together of Finland, Denmark, Germany, and Ireland in the creation of this 3D digitally animated comedy-adventure film. There are also the annual julekalender TV programmes that end up resembling long films, with their twenty-four advent calendar episodes leading up to the final episodes on Christmas Eve. Many are available from past years and are more than entertaining to keep your excitable kids calm for a while in the run-up to the festivities.
If anybody knows of anything that can be easily watched and is a worthwhile addition to what I hope will become an ever-expanding list, please let me know. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and happy festive viewing!