A big film about Liv Ullmann takes center stage

Direct from the Cannes Film Festival


Photo: Geir Mæland
Each May, film industry representatives from all over the world gather in Cannes on the French Riviera at the star-studded Cannes Film Festival. This year, Norway was among the key players at Cannes, with the screening of a new documentary about veteran actor Liv Ullmann emerging as a festival highlight.

Geir Mæland
Films of Norway

If you have ever been to Cannes on the French Riviera, it is likely that you will be left with the feeling that this is where you want to return. And if you have never been there, I would recommend that you put it as one of the items on your bucket list.

There are many reasons why people just love Cannes in the time between April and October. Here are some of them: As a rule, sun, blue skies, and just the right temperature. Beautiful beaches, opportunity for great food experiences. Friendly Frenchmen (and women) who understand that they live off visiting people who are either on holiday or at a festival.

Speaking of festivals. There are actually three festivals that have to do with media and film: MIPTV in April, MIPCOM in October and the greatest of them all, the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Perhaps the biggest talking point in the international film arena this year was Johnny Depp and Indiana Jones, but as you may know, I am a super-nationalist Norwegian, so I was completely caught up in what is happening with the Norwegian film industry. Yes, we are a small country and do not have the biggest international cinema productions, but most Norwegian films are not to be missed. After all, Troll and The Worst Person in the World were Norwegian films.

There was a lot going on at the festival palace in Cannes: seminars, film screenings, purchase and sale agreements were signed, and it was almost teeming with celebrities and personalities from the industry. Maybe it’s not quite right to say that it’s “boiling” in there (and out), but things do happen …

Across from the festival palace, you find “the Norwegian office.” The Norwegian Film Institute (NFI) shares premises with the other Nordic countries’ corresponding organizations. One of the people with the most experience at NFI is Stine Oppegaard. There is little Norwegian-related activity that Stine is not an important part of.

I contacted Stine and wanted to know if she had time in her busy Cannes schedule to have a chat with me. Incredibly, she said yes, and I was excited to see how our little informal conversation would turn out.

Photo courtesy of Geir Mæland
At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Geir Mæland of Films of Noway was excited to meet up with Stine Oppegaard of the Norwegian Film Institute.

“How many Norwegian films are shown here in Cannes?” I asked.

“In Cannes, there is a festival and a sales market, so there are more departments, you could say, and more categories. The biggest film is the documentary about Liv Ullman, there are short films, and then we have six films that are presented on the market by the respective sales agents. We also attend seminars and have representatives there. For example, we were on a panel where the discussion focused on how to get people back to the cinema. An important topic,” she said.

“What I have worked with the most is the Liv Ullman film,” she said. “This is the second film the director has teamed up with Liv. The first one was Liv og Ingmar, which was a fantastic film. This one is also very nice. She has done so much more than just being an actress. Her efforts for UNICEF are greater than most of you realize and quite amazing.

Photo: Beate Oma Dahle / NTB
Veteran actor Liv Ullmann was front and center at Cannes this year with the screening of the documentary Liv Ullmann—A Road Less Travelled.

“Liv Ullmann and her entourage in Cannes was made up of over 40 people, so it goes without saying that there is some logistics involved to make it all work on all levels.

“The press reviews of Liv Ullmann—A Road Less Travelled were very positive. As one reviewer wrote: “If you didn’t like Liv Ullman before, you will at least after seeing the film.”

“You have attended the film festival in Cannes for many years,” I said. “How would you say that the film festival in Cannes has changed?”

“It was more cumbersome before, we worked more with paper and took longer, while now in digital the world is more efficient, more helpful, and more hectic than before,” said Stine.

“Furthermore, it is interesting to note that there is less Norwegian press present than before. The fact is that there are more of you now who are producers. Now there is deepened understanding that you have to be in attendance to present your films.”

“Would you say that Norwegian film is more attractive than before? I’m especially thinking of Nordic Noir,” I asked.

“I would say it shows you going up and down a bit. Someone will claim anyway that Norwegian film has never been more popular than right now and it may be, but my impression is that it varies,” she said.

In conclusion, what will I briefly say that sums up this year’s Film Festival in Cannes:

I would like to do that with two words: Liv Ullmann! She and the film are fantastic! I would also like to mention the great work done by Anne Lajla Utsi and Liisa Holmberg. What they do and achieve for Sámi film is admirable, and it will be exciting to see what comes of Sámi productions in the future.

Top Norwegian highlights from Cannes:

Liv Ullmann–A Road Less Travelled, documentary — Divided in three chapters, this film explores the iconic actor, writer, director, author, and activist Liv Ullmann’s multifaceted life and her extraordinary international career spanning over 66 years. This is the story of an ever-evolving human being full of openness and curiosity, who embraces possibilities and uncertainties, demonstrates what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated world, and shows how to find and use one’s voice without losing one’s integrity, sense of humor, or friends. Using intimate contributions from some of Ullmann’s close companions, the film delves deep into the core values underneath Ullmann’s universal appeal and longevity and celebrates one of the world’s most respected and revered artists.

Norwegian Dream, drama — Robert, a 19-year-old Polish immigrant working at a fish factory in Norway, is busy earning money to pay off the debts of his mother. Coming from an LGBTQIA+ free zone in Poland, he struggles with his feelings for his Norwegian colleague Ivar, especially when it turns out Ivar is a drag queen. When a strike begins among the Polish workers at the factory, Robert is bribed into breaking it. Will he take the much-needed money or stand up for love and his rights?

Songs of Earth, documentary — Songs of Earth is a majestic symphony for the big screen. With Olin’s 85-year-old father as a guide, we experience Norway’s most scenic valley, Oldedalen in Nordfjord. This is where he grew up and where generations before him have lived in balance with nature. Majestic images of wild mountains, calving glaciers, and bustling wildlife go side by side with the parents’ stories about the generations who trod the trails, the relationship we have with nature, and what is valuable in life. The music is composed of unique sound recordings—nature’s own melodies, translated and performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra.

Teddy’s Christmas, children’s film — Snowflakes, fragrant almonds, and twinkling lights create the perfect atmosphere at 8-year-old Mariann’s Christmas market visit. Suddenly, she discovers an unbelievable secret: on the top shelf of the lottery booth, the sweetest teddy bear has just moved his head and started sniffing. Feeling an instant connection with the living toy, Mariann can’t think of any better wish for Christmas and tries to win him. Teddy, however, has different plans, dreaming of a wealthy owner who can teach him everything the world has to offer. But when Teddy is taken away to a woodshed, his new best friend, the hedgehog Bolla, helps him realize what counts in life.

This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Geir Mæland

Geir Mæland is the founder and manager of Films of Norway, a Norwegian film-streaming service based in Stavanger, Norway.