As fall knocks on the door, the film world is getting ready for a new season. Venice Film Festival starts it off in Europe but in North America, Toronto International Film Festival is the first hot spot. The festival in Canada’s big city has grown to be the second most important and prestigious in the world. This year Sweden brings fierce fruit to Toronto’s table: one cult master with absurdist comedy and one contemporary observer of human behavior. Both are nailing it with true originality and wit.

First out is legendary director Roy Andersson with his not too long title, “A Pigeon Sat On a Branch Reflecting on Existence." It’s the final installment in his trilogy about “being a human being." His first film, “Songs from the Second Floor” (2000) stunned the film world with its unique style and substance. It would take another seven years before the second film, “You, the Living” (2007) saw the light. Another seven years later the awaited “Pigeon…" has now finally got its wings.


Again we see Andersson's unique trademark and flawless satire. The non-linear narrative, Felliniesque grotesque characters and the quirky, semi-comedic style are all integrated with his brutal observation of the human condition. Anderson plays out a series of absurd comedic vignettes with a pair of gloomy salesmen traveling around Gothenburg. Around this odd couple other bleak and amusingly tragic/comic fellow citizens show up — a heart-broken dance teacher is a favorite.

No other filmmaker does anything even remotely similar and few can be so refreshingly funny — in a morbid and bizarre kind of way. At intervals Andersson also flashes back to a 1940s café with a singing “Halta Lotta" who gives away vodka shots for a kiss. In other scenes King Charles VII rides into a bar and flirts with the male bartender as his soldiers stand by waiting to invade Russia.

The camera is still, the bars are steep, the shades are grey and beige — every scene is odd and insanely beautiful. Like a great novelist or a master painter, Andersson has created a movie for us to admire and to reflect upon — like the pigeon that sits on the branch above and watches us humans doing peculiar things.

A few days ago “A Pigeon..” took home the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival (Roy Andersson wins Golden Lion in Venice, one of the most respected film prizes in the world. It’s the first time in history a Swedish film has gotten this honor.

Another internationally acclaimed Swedish director is making waves in Toronto. Ruben Östlund's new film, "Force Majeure," which was the talk of the town at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and has already sold to over 40 countries, is a tour de force of filmmaking. Unlike his extraordinary previous films “Involuntary” (2008) and “Play” (2011), this dark comedy on masculinity and marriage would work well for a bigger audience.

Set in the French Alps, an ordinary Swedish family on holiday slowly cracks from inside. During a lunch at a mountain restaurant, an avalanche and the father's unexpected actions turn things upside down. Instead of falling into an easy formulaic drama, Östlund unfolds his story with restraint and thoughtfulness. The disaster for the family is not the avalanche but the psychological aftermath.

Ruben Östlund is an observer. With his eagle eye for human behavior and body language he reveals with subtle slyness what lies underneath the surface. By taking it to the surface he creates uncomfortable, recognizable and bitingly funny situations.

The contrast of the visual language in a hotel room, the lifts and the magnificent snowy mountain tops, accompanied with Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” is simply striking and helps to enhance the slow-burning drama.

Östlund explores bourgeois privilege, hidden prejudices and the expectations of being a man in a traditional family. But maybe more importantly, how lack of honest communication can so easily cause a relationship to fall to pieces. More on Force Majeure: Sweden's 2014 Oscars entry revealed

In addition to “Force Majeure” and “A Pigeon…,” two Swedish short films and Mikael Marcimain's feature film, “Gentlemen,” have also hit the screens in Toronto. Amid the hundreds of anticipated films at the festival, Swedish Hollywood movie star Noomi Rapace also showed up to promote her latest, “The Drop."

This year in Toronto the Swedes are making an impression that echoes far, far away.

By Niclas Goldberg

More info on the Toronto Film Festival: