Overpowered by lesbians in Cannes, but Danish film still bullish on future

Refn’s violence unable to compete with tenderness of lesbian drama, while Mikkelsen’s French dialogue left jury unimpressed

Despite high hopes heading into the Cannes Festival earlier this month, neither of the two Danes nominated left southern France with awards. 

This year marked the third year running that a Danish film been selected for the main competition at Cannes, and some in the national film industry have seen the string of nominations as a sign Danish film is recapturing some the attention it held in the late 1990s. 

Among the two hopefuls this year were director Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Only God Forgives’. Cheered at home as an early favourite, the film was quickly overshadowed by the strong interest in ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’, the lesbian drama that wound up taking home the festival’s top prize.

 The film, a tale of fraternal revenge set in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, had been criticised for its rampant violence. Critics came away divided. Some booed and walked out of the screening, whereas others praised it for its realism. 

“It is very violent, but Winding Refn’s bizarre infernal creation, an entire created world of fear, really is gripping. Every scene, every frame, is executed with pure formal brilliance,” the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote. 

Refn attended the National Film School, but left at 24 to make ‘Pusher’, a film about Copenhagen’s shady underbelly and which threw actor Mads Mikkelsen into the spotlight. 

Since then Refn has had a rocky career; he had to file for bankruptcy after ’Fear X’ flopped in 2003. His 2009 effort Valhalla Rising, which also starred Mikkelsen, again left critics unimpressed. Partenered up with actor Ryan Gosling though, things finally seem to be going his way.

Most recently his name has surfaced as a possible director for the next James Bond sequel. So while the gore may have been too much for Cannes, it appears to have been more suited to the tastes in Hollywood. 

As for Mikkelsen, Denmark’s leading man, who most recently appeared on the small screen in America as Hannibal Lechter, also returned to Cannes this year, after winning best actor at last year’s festival. Despite performing entirely in French playing the title role in ‘Michael Kohlhaas’, Mikkelsen failed in his bid to become the first actor ever to win the Palme d’Or twice. Mikkelsen was praised for his strong effort, but the film was not as well received as ‘The Hunt’ was last year. 

While there were no awards for Denmark this year, Icelander Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s, ’Whale Valley’, did receive a special mention. 

Based in Denmark and supported by the Danish Film Institute (DFI), Guðmundsson’s film tells the heartbreaking story of two brothers who live in a small Icelandic fishing village. The younger discovers his older brother attempting to commit suicide, who then makes him promise not to tell their parents.