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CANNES 2016 Nordic countries

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Nicolas Winding Refn eyes the Palme d’Or for the third time


- The Danish director’s thriller The Neon Demon – “a Danish cannibal horror film involving top models” – is the only Scandinavian feature in this year’s Cannes competition

Nicolas Winding Refn eyes the Palme d’Or for the third time
Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon by Nicolas Winding Refn

When Cannes Film Festival General Delegate Thierry Frémaux announced the selection for this year’s main competition in Paris, there were no Scandinavian entries among the first 19 contenders for the Palme d’Or – but then, there it was: Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon [+see also:
film review
film focus
Q&A: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile
, “a Danish cannibal horror film involving top models”, as Frémaux introduced it. 

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The participation of the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden on the Côte d’Azur from 11-22 May is far from overwhelming – besides The Neon Demon, Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Juho Kuosmanen
film profile
will screen in the Un Certain Regard section, and Sweden has two shorts in the official competition: Swedish director Simon Vahlne’s Fight on a Swedish Beach and Colombian director Simón Mesa Soto’s Mother, produced by David Herdies for Stockholm’s Momento Film.

The Neon Demon – Refn’s third Cannes effort, after Drive (2011), which won for Best Director, and Only God Forgives [+see also:
film review
making of
film focus
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile
(2013) – focuses on the obsession with beauty and perfect appearances. A young woman tries to start a modelling career in Los Angeles, but her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of women who will use any means necessary to get what she has.

Written by Refn, it stars Elle Fanning in a cast including Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee and Christina Hendricks. Developed and post-produced in Denmark, it was shot in Los Angeles and staged by Danish producer Lene Børglum for her and Refn’s company, Space Rocket Nation. Scanbox has scheduled the Danish release for 9 June, while responsibility for foreign distribution lies with Paris-based Wild Bunch, which co-financed the film with Gaumont.

Supported by the Danish Film Institute, The Neon Demon will be launched simultaneously in the UK, France, Italy and the US (where it will be handled by Amazon). Refn, who is celebrating his 20th anniversary as a director, has thus delivered the Danish feature set to receive the largest international opening of all time. 

Kuosmanen’s feature debut, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, is inspired by real-life events: Olli Mäki was the first Finn to fight for the world championship in featherweight boxing, which he lost humiliatingly by knock-out in the second round, in a packed stadium. Still, he sees it as the best day of his life. “This is not only a film about finding love; it is about the fear of failure and the pressure to succeed – the same emotions I struggled with while making it,” Kuosmanen explained. “The chance to open it at the most important film festival in the world brings a new set of expectations, but as Mäki said, ‘Let’s fight and see how it goes.’”

Kuosmanen and Mikko Myllylahti scripted the film, which stars Jarkko Lahti in a cast including Oona Airola and Eero Milonoff; it was produced by Jussi Rantamäki for Aamu Filmcompany. After the world premiere at Cannes, B-Plan will handle the local release on 2 September, and France’s Les Films du Losange is in charge of its international sales.

Vahlne’s Fight on a Swedish Beach is a reconstruction of an event on a beach in western Sweden that originated from a very inappropriate, but very accurate, impression of German Führer Adolf Hitler. Vahlne, who had previously directed two shorts, worked on his third with Swedish producers Ellen Hallin and Axel Danielson, for Plattform Produktion, which was supported by the Swedish Film Institute.

Part of the international project Break the Silence, about sexually abused children, Soto’s Mother is the story of a 16-year-old Colombian girl, Andrea, who leaves her poverty-ridden home to join an audition for a porn movie. Born in Colombia, the director moved to London, where he studied at the London Film School. Two years ago, his short Leidi won first prize at Cannes, and he is currently working on his first feature. 

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