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Ewan McGregor Starrer ‘Mother, Couch’ Wins Best Nordic Film at Goteborg Film Festival; Finland’s Oona Airola Nabs Acting Award

Niclas Larsson’s “Mother, Couch” was awarded the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at Goteborg, taking home the considerable amount of SEK 400,000 ($38,000).

Led by Ewan McGregor – this year’s recipient of the Honorary Dragon Award – the U.S.-Swedish-Danish co-production also features Ellen Burstyn and “Bones and All” breakout Taylor Russell, making it one of the starriest Goteborg winners in recent years.

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“My therapist was wrong! I pitched him this idea a few years ago and he said: ‘Don’t do it.’ I am from here and this festival has meant the world to me. Standing on this stage is a bit surreal,” said Larsson.

Jurors Lena Endre, Ramata-Toulaye Sy, William Spetz, Tonia Noyabrova and Anna Novion appreciated the way it shows “how difficult it is to let go of the past, accept loss and finally embrace the future.” They praised “original and bold storytelling, with a lot of humor,” as well as the use of “creative cinematography.”

In the film, sold by Charades and based on Jerker Virdborg’s novella, three siblings find themselves in a small furniture shop in the middle of nowhere. The problem is, once inside, their mother refuses to leave the couch, leaving them stranded and frustrated.

Earlier this week, opening up about his career, McGregor also talked about the “beautifully directed” film.

“I was sent the script, out of the blue, and was absolutely spellbound by it. I just had to do it. It’s not every day and not every script that makes you feel this way. It was brave, the way [Niclas] cast the film and the way he shot it. He wasn’t swayed by all these business people who tell you how things should be done. I admired it and I still admire it now.”

The Dragon Award for Best Acting went to Oona Airola for Miia Tervo’s “The Missile,” continuing Finnish actors’ lucky streak at the fest. Last year, Alma Pöysti was noticed for “Four Little Adults” – which also featured Airola – kick-starting an eventful year that culminated in a Golden Globe nomination for “Fallen Leaves.”

The Missile
The Missile

In the past, Airola drew praise for her work in Juho Kuosmanen’s “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki,” awarded at Cannes, and “Land of Hope.” She also appeared in the Sundance premiere “Girl Picture.”

“Her character is stuck between past and future love, a messy family you would like to move in with and a missile. Thanks to this beautiful performance, we are stuck there right with her,” said the jurors.

On the documentary front, Sundance revelation “Ibelin” by Benjamin Ree proved unbeatable, while “Fifteen Zero Three Nineteenth of January Two Thousand Sixteen” by Marius Dybwad Brandrud and Petra Bauer, and Suvi West and Anssi Kömi’s “Homecoming” picked up special mentions.

“It’s about a boy – our boy. These are the most emotional days of our lives,” said the father of the film’s protagonist, gamer Mats Steen who died of a degenerative muscular disease.

“We were told he would be deprived of the opportunity to form friendships, of experiencing love. But then, people from all over the world came to his funeral. People we’ve never seen, people we didn’t know even existed. It’s a movie about new ways of forming friendships and experiencing love. And one that asks fundamental questions about what it means to lead a valuable life.”

The Sven Nykvist Cinematography Award went to Juan Sarmiento G. for “Madame Luna.” Nikolaj Arcel’s “The Promised Land” achieved the double whammy of convincing both critics and the public, walking off with Fipresci and audience awards.

“It was a strong edition and I am very happy with it,” festival director Jonas Holmberg tells Variety. It also marked Holmberg’s last outing in the role, with Pia Lundberg already tapped as his successor. Encouraged by Ruben Östlund, the audience sent him off with a standing ovation.

“If you look at this year’s Nordic selection, there is variety. Sometimes, there is a preconception that Nordic cinema is bleak, that there is always some guy running around in the woods. But we had zombies, we had science fiction, comedy and historical epics. And one thing is very obvious: This is always a showcase for incredible acting,”  said Holmberg.

Sprawling period dramas did make a triumphant comeback this year, as exemplified by “The Promised Land,” Finland’s “Stormskerry Maja” and Nils Gaup’s “The Riot.”

“There is this moment in Nordic culture when so many people are looking back at history and reevaluating it. In recent years we have been talking about our colonial past, too, and so many filmmakers are looking for contemporary perspectives both on a small and on a bigger scale.”

Ibelin
Ibelin

Goteborg intends to be a place where young and “super nervous” filmmakers can safely co-exist with the biggest stars, he says.

“You want them both to feel welcomed. When it comes to Alicia Vikander, for example, she is working with us a lot on the Alicia Vikander Film Lab. She is a big star, sure, but it’s a different relationship because we also have a project together. It’s actually one of our goals: to inspire young people to tell their stories.”

Holmberg also reflected on his legacy at the fest.

“I am not dying! I am only 41 years old, you know,” he laughs.

“It’s not just about creating ‘safe space,’ because there needs to be this element of risk. I have been working here for 10 years and cinema has changed so much. It’s not the same world. It has been so interesting, trying to figure it all out.”

He adds: “It’s very easy to become too conservative. We all love theatrical experience and we want to preserve it, but you can’t stop time. You won’t win this fight. Still, when Thierry Frémaux talked to Ruben Östlund during the festival, he said that when it comes to cinema, the real ‘original’ is not the film itself – it’s the screening. That’s what film festivals are about, too: About creating original and unique situations. It’s difficult, but it’s possible.”

Full List of Awards:

Dragon Award Best Nordic Film: “Mother, Couch,” directed by Niclas Larsson

Dragon Award Best Acting: Oona Airola for Miia Tervo’s “The Missile”

Dragon Award Best Nordic Documentary: “Ibelin,” directed by Benjamin Ree

Special Mention: “Fifteen Zero Three Nineteenth of January Two Thousand Sixteen,” directed by Marius Dybwad Brandrud and Petra Bauer

Special Mention: “Homecoming,” directed by Suvi West and Anssi Kömi

The Sven Nykvist Cinematography Award: Juan Sarmiento G. for “Madame Luna”

Fipresci Award: “The Promised Land,” directed by Nikolaj Arcel

Audience Dragon Award: “The Promised Land”

The Ingmar Bergman International Debut Award: “Me, Maryam, The Children and 26 Others,” directed by Farshad Hashemi

Dragon Award Best International Film: “There’s Still Tomorrow,” directed by Paola Cortellesi

Draken Film Award: “2008 Loves You,” directed by Nellie Lexfors

Youth Jury Dragon Award: “A Ravaging Wind,” directed by Paula Hernández

Mai Zetterling Grant: Jenifer Malmqvist

Honorary Dragon Award: Ewan McGregor

Nordic Honorary Dragon Award: Sidse Babett Knudsen.

Dragon Award Best Swedish Short: “Death of a Hero,” directed by Karin Franz Körlof

Audience Choice Award for Best Swedish Short: “I Am the Fire,” directed by Patrik Eklund

Angelo Award: “If Everyone Just Leaves,” directed by Karin Wegsjö and Nazira Abzalova

Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize: Johan Fasting, Silje Storstein and Kristin Grue for “Power Play”

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