Cold lands look on the bright side
21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage. Picture: Supplied

If you had to pick one region in the world that is currently top of the pops when it comes to acclaimed film and television, you could not go past Scandinavia.

Since 2008's icy cool vampire thriller Let the Right One In and 2009's global sensation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, films from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the related Nordic countries of Finland and Iceland have captured the world's attention (the term Scandinavian is used rather loosely here).

It's a region famous for juxtaposing its chilly climes and isolated, often snow-covered landscapes with the seriously sinister, twisted tales that lurk beneath.

Television series such as The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen have also lifted Scandinavian drama to unprecedented levels of popularity.

Given so many acclaimed films never see the light of day Down Under, Palace Cinemas is presenting the inaugural Scandinavian Film Festival, which runs at Cinema Paradiso from tomorrow.

Special guest Laura Birn, who stars in two of the films, says the festival proves there is more to Scandinavian film and TV than the cold, creepy crime thrillers currently in vogue.

"Somehow, we've become famous for the darker stories but we also have a lot of lightness, a lot of comedies and romances and lighthearted movies," says Birn, who sports the typical Scandinavian snow-blonde hair, blue eyes and ceramic skin.

"I think festival audiences will see that in a very funny comedy called 21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage, which is one of the most successful films of all time in my country (Finland), and in the film I star in, August Fools, an uplifting tale of lost love based on real events during the Cold War."

Birn, 33, also points to films such as Flow, a kind of Nordic 8 Mile, and Hotell, a quirky, oddball drama about an unconventional therapy group, as examples of the region's diversity.

And while the hit premiere of the festival, The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, is a crime thriller, it has a blackly comic twist.

The Swedish blockbuster sees a 100-year-old man escape his nursing home and go on the run, chased by inept criminals. Through flashbacks, we discover he's been involved in some of the most important events of the 20th century. A kind of Nordic Forrest Gump and a riotous ride, it's won countless festival awards and the hearts of millions.

Two further highlights - the claustrophobic deep-sea diving thriller Prisoners and the glib police procedural The Keeper of Lost Causes - are far more typical of the Nordic noirs of late.

"I think the dark stories come from all this dark weather here," Birn says about the region's uncanny predilection towards idyllic fairytale veneers that often hide gloomy, nightmarish hearts.

"It really has a big effect on us. People go quiet and live indoors.

"When the summer comes, people get a lot happier, they talk and smile more. So if it was always sunny and warm here, I don't think we'd have these stories. Somehow the darkness in people is fascinating. I love to search that. I find it really interesting."

While other Scandi thrillers such as The Hunt, the Easy Money trilogy (which screens in full at the festival) and the books and films by Jo Nesbo typify the trend, Scandinavia has a long history of cinematic riches, including the many films of Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier, Lasse Hallstrom and Nicolas Winding Refn.

"I'm really proud to be the first guest of the first Scandinavian film festival in Australia," Birn says.

"The world is very open to our work at the moment and that's great for us. We're getting more opportunities. Our writers and directors and actors are going on to work internationally. We're living through a very good moment in Scandinavian cinema."

The West Australian

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