You’ve never seen anything exactly like Stories from Norway: The Musical! Chances may well be you’ve never seen anything remotely like it either, although if you’ve seen Flight of the Conchords – and you should! – you’ve close kind of close. Norwegian brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker take actual stories from Norway’s recent past, such as the building of a local council diving board that resulted in an extraordinary cost blow-out, or the time Justin Bieber short-changed a small audience of incredibly passionate Norwegian fans at a concert, and dramatise them as full-on mini-musicals. I kid you not. They shoot the episodes – averaging 21 minutes – in English, consisting of interviews with real people involved in the real events and elaborately staged recreations, sung-through with original songs. The whole package is extremely funny and rather jaw-droppingly clever. Recommended unreservedly; truly entertaining and surprisingly informative.


Bad Banks is less original – it’s a fast-paced financial Euro-thriller, so it follows that money by following, among others, Follow The Money but it’s no less entertaining, its thrills achieved chiefly through sheer pace of storytelling. This show burns through plot like Donald Trump burns through staff. Some of it is ludicrous, but that’s part of the ride. We’ve had plenty of financial malfeasance thrillers; this one differentiates itself by adding psychological disturbance to the mix, not as plot development but as character starting line. Banking doesn’t make these people corrupt, broken, maladjusted and amoral, the show seems to be saying; it’s such people who want to be bankers. All the characters, save for our heroine, played by the stoic but subtly subversive Paula Beer, are over-the-top banking maniacs and they’re all a whole lot of fun. Plus, it’s set and shot in Luxembourg, Frankfurt am Main, and Berlin. What more do you want?


In Australia both series are available for free on SBS On Demand.




*** (out of five)

Like Land of Mine, François Ozon’s new film, Frantz, examines, among other things, the nature of vengeance, recrimination and forgiveness in the aftermath of a world war – this time, the first one. But whereas Land Of Mine is urgent, with a contemporary feel, Ozon’s film, reaching further back in time (essentially a century), chooses to celebrate its story’s sense of the past with formal construction, gentle pacing, and, for the most part, a monochromatic (black and white) palette. The images are often very, very striking; Ozon and his cinematographer Pascal Marti use strong contrast to achieve the blackest blacks, evident in the mourning clothes of the central family. And, occasionally, the film slips dreamily into a faded colour, like that of early colour photographs. It appears, for the first act at least, to be Art Cinema with a capital A and to be approached as such.

It’s partially a remake of an Ernst Lubitsch film from 1932, Broken Lullaby, itself based on a 1930 play by Maurice Rostand whose title I won’t mention, as it gives something away in the context of the present film. The material must have seemed pretty pungent at the time, when war wounds were still raw and distrust between France and Germany was still very much on the boil (now hopefully down to a simmer).

Anna (Paula Beer) is mourning her fiancé Frantz, who was killed fighting in France (the name is obviously loaded). She lives with Frantz’s parents in their small German town, and she dutifully visits Frantz’s grave. One day, she notices a young man (Pierre Niney, a man of big face) laying fresh flowers there – and not only does he turn out to be French (not a good thing to be in a small German town at this time) but he seems to have a mission, and it involves her.

The play and Lubitsch’s film ended one way; Ozon adds, essentially, a second half. He also completely shifts the point of view; the original material followed the young Frenchman, but this is Anna’s story. It’s intriguing, in a stately fashion, but cold; the material and its telling is resolutely tasteful and formal and almost completely lacking in passion. Ozon is still young, but for some reason he’s gone and made an old man’s film, that is very very pretty, with little to say. It feels, to a degree, like an exercise in style, made more to satisfy an urge of Ozon’s own rather than that of any contemporary audience. About halfway through act three, he references one of the most famous scenes from Casablanca (1942), and I realised what I’d been watching all along: a good ol’ fashioned war-flavoured romantic melodrama – and in black and white, no less.

PS: Hope you liked last Saturday’s review of MY BODYGUARD, published on April 1st. April Fool from Film Mafia!