The 10 Best Danish Movies (and What They Say About Danes)

June 6, 2012  //  By:   //  DISCUSS  //  4 Comments

As a foreigner in a strange land, you have some things to get used to. People complaining about the bus being 4 minutes late or how nobody talks to you unless they are drunk. You have begun a journey, a long quest of trying to understand those cold, drunk creatures called Danes. Maybe you will never truly get it. I hope watching these movies will bring you one step closer.

10. Olsen Banden

Pick whichever one you like. They are all delightful. And you are going to need them. Generally, Danish movies are dark, dreary, social realistic dramas about the horrors of the human condition (tough, but you have to see them still). But Olsen Banden is all about a lovable and foolish gang of thieves just trying to cheat their way through life.

What it says about Danes:

It reminds us of simpler times. These movies are set in some strange, fictional Denmark where there is always summer, the girls wear lovely white lace dresses, and the men banter in between enjoyable, hard labor. Danes abroad seem to remember Denmark only like this after a while and it could be a hint to what kind of country the Danish Folk Party thinks Denmark will become once we remove all those pesky foreigners.

You should also watch: Dirch, Far til Fire, any movie that has Morten Korch in it.

9. Kundskabens Træ

We are still in the summer/white dresses/lovely banter part of the Danish movie history but some cracks have begun to appear in this mirror. Kundskabens Træ is about people growing up, going through the Danish school system and dealing with the girlish intrigues, childish cruelties, and budding sexuality that comes with that time period.

What it says about Danes:

Being forced to be in the same classroom with the same people from the age of 6 until 15 is a hard lesson in bullying, typecasting and humiliation that all Danes can bond over. Much of the Danish psychology industry must be based on this rigid school system, in which no one is allowed to stand out and no one is able to escape. If you don’t have the money for therapy, you sit down with this movie and half-cry, half-laugh along with eternally good lines like: “Den er rød!” and “Klister!.” No matter how long you stay in Denmark you will probably not understand the entertainment of those two lines.

You should also watch: Kærestesorger, Midt on Natten.

8. Et Rigtigt Menneske

Now on to one of the few things Denmark has gotten international critical acclaim for: Dogme. While I don’t have the time to really explain the concept , it is very gloomy. Picture the exact opposite of traditional Hollywood movies. Most of the films are terribly good and depressing, but this little gem of a movie really shows how films can depict the bleak truth and still be heartwarming and funny.

What it says about Danes:

Hmm, this gets harder. Probably that when you are the tiniest of tiny movie industry, it is easier to create your own little club with your own little rules, rather than try to compete with the Goliaths of Hollywood and Bollywood. It also allows you to be both pretentious and broke at the same time, something Danes love.

What you should also watch: Idioterne, Babettes Gæstebud.

7. Bænken

A milder version of Dogme is just bleak social realism; a genre mastered by the entire north of Europe. Poverty combined with bad weather does not make for a from-rags-to-riches mindset like the North American style movies, it just makes for sad movies featuring a lot of concrete. This movie, though, has an uplifting feel to it, a glimmer of hope that becomes that much more touching.

What it says about Danes:

Despite the fact that there are so few of us and that we all have roughly the same income and living standards, we like to pretend that there are discernible differences between social classes in Denmark. Maybe it’s to justify handing over half your paycheck every month or maybe it’s just nice to know that right around the corner, someone is worse off than you.

What you should also watch: Arven, Drabet, Efter Brylluppet.

6. Valhalla

There are not too many Danish childrens movies made, since the market is ridiculously small, so when we as adults find out that most of our beloved childhood memories were poorly dubbed Belgic cartoons, it breaks our hearts. This one, however, stands on its own. It is the version of Nordic folklore we will always believe in, despite American versions of Thor and the truth that comes out from reading the actual mythologies. If you want to know how we picture Thor, Odin, Loke, Freja and the rest, you have to watch this cartoon.

What it says about Danes:

We are Vikings! Hear us roar!

What you should also watch: Benny’s Badekar, Samson & Sally

5. Kunsten At Græde I Kor

Here is a strange mix of genres. Someone took the idyllic eternal summer of old movies and inserted a smidge of dark truth. This movie takes place in Jutland and depicts the hilarious accents and uncomfortable family relationships that take place. Almost no Danish movies are set anywhere else but Copenhagen, so, it is refreshing to watch, even if they routinely imply a fundamental stupidity of the country folk.

What it says about Danes:

It says that most people living in Copenhagen, are not from Copenhagen, but from Jutland and the countryside. Then they get jobs as movie executives and want to show their friends how terrible it is to grow up amongst cows.

What you should also watch: Pelle Eroberen, Frygtelig Lykkelig, Drømmen.

4. Terkel I Knibe

Another children’s movie. Although non-Danes might be surprised at the amount of violence and swearing that goes on. It’s debatable how much it is aimed at kids and how much at adults, but it is indisputable that it is hilarious. Anders “Anden” Matthesen is the crowned king of Danish comedy and the linguistic contortions these characters get into are fascinating.

What it says about Danes:

You can joke about anything from bullying to starving African children as long as it is funny. The conservative censorship is reserved for joking about the prophet Muhammad or Islam.

You should also watch: Don’t. There are other types of movies like this, but they are all terrible.

3. Flammen og Citronen

BAM! We can make action movies too, and this is a great example. The gloomy setting and the quiet acting is perfect for intense thrillers and this is something we do very well. Set in WW2, Flammen og Citronen is both romantic and deadly enough to please anyone on a date (provided Danes actually went on dates, which we don’t – we “hygger”).

What it says about Danes:

We also did something right against the Nazis! Or at least 0.001 % of the population did! Aren’t we heroic?

You should also watch: Pusher, Gamle Mænd I Nye biler, Headhunter, Valhalla Rising, Blekingegadebanden (that is one long name for a movie)

2. Den Eneste Ene

This romantic comedy was actually written after the American type movie, after writer Susanne Bier saw how poorly Danish style romantic comedies were doing. It is also the best freaking rom-com ever! It deals with relationships, cheating, adoption, revenge and true love in a sweet blend of humor and quirkiness. It’s now been made into a play and a well received one at that, because almost any Dane can quote directly from it (“Bare ærgeligt, Sonny-Boy”).

What it says about Danes:

It’s a romantic comedy that doesn’t say anything special about Danes other than that we are just like people everywhere who want to love and be loved and that that is not an easy thing to do.

You should also watch: Italiensk For Begyndere, Nynne, Sorte Kugler.

1. Blinkende Lygter

Where to start? This movie has everything we love in it; romantic summery setting, dark haunted characters and a truly funny manuscript. All the movies listed in this category should be watched. The fantastic actors, the great jokes and the underlying moral of giving people another chance in life.

What it says about Danes:

When Danes say “I have really black humor” they don’t mean a Chris Rock/Richard Pryor kind of deal. They mean this. The kind of humor that doesn’t stop where social conventions say it should, but goes on until you are partly horrified, partly shocked but entirely entertained.

You should also watch: Adams Æbler, De Grønne Slagtere, I Kina Spiser De Hunde, Rembrandt.

Please feel free to comment on ones I’ve missed or if you thought I was completely wrong. What movies moved you? What movies say the most about Denmark and Danes? What movies have you watched that you think other foreign exchange students might like?


About the Author :

Sine Morris is a fugitive from Århus who is constantly baffled by the strange actions of these "copenhageners." She never leaves Frederiksberg, where she lives at a kollegium with her adopted hamster, Sved. Sine studies IB so that she can one day become an American and manipulate the world with her marketing magic. Sine is starting to warm to this strange part of Denmark, but is still not convinced that they will ever accept her need to say "ikk'å" and "midtbyen".

4 Comments to “The 10 Best Danish Movies (and What They Say About Danes)”
  • Lasse
    January 16, 2014 - Reply

    Yeah! “Festen” is an awesome dogme movie aswell.
    I’m pretty dissapointed about the fact that none Lars Von Trier movie was listet.
    Submarino and Jagten would have been an obvious choice aswell.

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