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The Berlinale Blog: Nonagenarian lite/Scandinavian gloom

With the halfway point behind us, Rory O’Connor finds two established European directors working at opposite ends of the comedic spectrum.

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For better or worse, the grand festivals of this world will always make space at the table for Alain Resnais. The latest offering of his staggering 78-year career is Life of Riley; a soap opera styled comedy which takes a play from Alan Ayckbourn and rather bluntly lobs it on the big screen. It’s the feather light story of three thespian couples and their ill off-screen friend George. The women from these respective couples are tired of their partners’ shortcomings and so all three vie for the dying man’s affection.

Questions can be asked of what business this really has on the big screen as up until the film’s latter scenes there’s really nothing very cinematic about it at all. Resnais uses stage sets and props to varying effect with his camera moving liberally throughout but the comedy at its core is as light and schmaltzy as they come. But then, at 91 years of age, perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt.

Operating at the other end of the spectrum is Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland; his hilariously grim crime epic In Order of Disappearance is about as far from monsieur Resnais’ theatre piece as you can get.

Stellan Skarsgard (in his second great role this week) plays a gruff, introverted snow plow operator – called Nils – who goes on the rampage when his son turns up dead. With rifle and plough in tow he first takes on the Norwegian Mafioso – led by hipster criminal Greven (Pal Sverre Hagen) – before playing them off against their local Serb rivals.

It’s a sprawling piece of genre filmmaking packed to the rafters with pitch black humour, colourful characters and post-modern leanings. We’ve got the scorned lone gun; the wailing Morricone guitars; and, most classically western of all, a disregard for the imminent modernity. Moland puts his man of few words; meat and two veg hero up against the uber contemporary Greven, Norwegian urbanity personified. The old world wages war with the new on the freezing Scandinavian frontier and the bodies pile up accordingly, one chapter at a time, in order of disappearance.

It seems Eskil Vogt hasn’t had the last word on Norwegian cinema at this particular festival after all. Nor indeed, for that matter, has Michel Houllebecq had the last laugh on Stockholm Syndrome either. It’s difficult to say what chance such a genre piece as Moland’s will have come Saturday’s awards ceremony but we can presume, at the very least, that Herr Waltz has approved. If you’re in need of a chilling mid-festival palette cleanser, be sure to seek it out.

Life of Riley screens Feb 12, 22:00 (Haus der Berliner Festspiele).

In Order of Disappearance screens Feb 12, 18:30 (Passage), Feb 16, 18:00 (Friedrichstadt Palast).