Armchair Travels
December 18, 2011 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Next year, I'll be travelling to the Netherlands and (briefly) Belgium, then later a trip to Tallinn, Helsinki and Stockholm. Are there any films or novels I should check out to get a feel for the places before I get there?

Scandinavian crime fiction is huge right now in the UK, so I already know about this. I also already own Tove Jansson's The Summer Book, The Winter Book and the Moomin stories. Any other recommendations would be great! Books set in those places as well as written by natives would be fine too. I don't speak any of those languages so any suggestions need to be subtitled/translated, sadly.
posted by mippy to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The Millenium Series by Stieg Larsson -- all set in and around Stockholm; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and the Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. All three of the original Swedish films are streaming on Netflix (all subtitled) and the remake of the Dragon Tattoo one is coming out this week, I think.
posted by la petite marie at 2:34 PM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: Hello - thanks, but it's hard to get away from Stieg Larsson at the moment - everyone on the Tube seems to be reading it! I haven't yet, so I will, but I'd like something different from crime fiction as I'd like to think that it's not a land of murder and rape. Especially as we are actually staying in Sodermalm...
posted by mippy at 2:40 PM on December 18, 2011

Disclaimer: it's written by a friend of mine. But the most recent English language book I've read that's set in Holland was The Honest Look.

I'm also trying to think if there are any translated works... Apparently "Phileine Says Sorry" has been adapted into a film, so I'm thinking there might also be an English version of the book, but I can't find that right now.

Then there's also a lot of Dutch literature set in WWII time that has been translated to English (Anne Frank being the most famous example) but that's not really what the country is like now, so that won't help much.
posted by easternblot at 2:42 PM on December 18, 2011

OH! How could I forget The Discovery of Heaven! Film was based on a famous Dutch novel, but I can't remember how much of it was changed on screen. The Wikipedia page has the whole synopsis.
posted by easternblot at 2:45 PM on December 18, 2011

Part of Amsterdam by Ian McEwan takes placed in, you guessed it, the Netherlands. I'm not sure how much of a feel for the place you'll get from the book (I read it a number of years ago), but it's definitely a good book.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2011

A Bridge Too Far
posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:05 PM on December 18, 2011

Jaan Kross is one of the best-known Estonian writers and has plenty of works in English translation, though they're historic rather than contemporary novels, but will definitely help you see a little of what's under the skin of present-day Estonia.
posted by penguin pie at 3:08 PM on December 18, 2011

Calamari Union is a story of 14 men called Frank and their journey from one part of Helsinki (Kallio) to another, better part of Helsinki (Eira). Aki Kaurismäki film from 1985. It has aged well and hip as hell. search youtube.
posted by Free word order! at 3:15 PM on December 18, 2011

You're not going to Denmark, which is too bad because there are so many awesome Danish films. Smilla's Sense of Snow, Italian for Beginners, and Let the Right One In (original version) all have a very similar Scandinavian sensibility (when there aren't vampires or alien attacks).
posted by miyabo at 3:21 PM on December 18, 2011

It's crime fiction but the movie "In Bruges" also serves as a lovely travelogue of that city. Its crazy criminals are largely non-Belgians, some of whom appreciate the city's architecture and history.
posted by Morrigan at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2011

The last section of Night on Earth takes place in Helsinki.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:55 PM on December 18, 2011

"Show Me Love" (or, as it was first titled, "Fucking Amal," Amal being the name of a town in Sweden)
posted by zahava at 4:18 PM on December 18, 2011

Girl with Pearl Earring gave me some perspective on Dutch culture.
posted by Area Control at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2011

I quite liked Sidetracked, but it may fail in your lack your "no crime fiction" test.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:31 PM on December 18, 2011

Doctor Glas is a great book set in late-19th-century Stockholm. It's short, dark and compelling. After Strindberg, Hjalmar Söderberg is the nearest thing to a Swedish Dostoevsky.
posted by cincinnatus c at 6:00 PM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: I don't mind crime fiction! I just said that to avoid people suggesting Wallander, Jo Nesbo etc.

I keep meaning to see In Bruges again. And I haven't seen Night on Earth since I was a pretentious 17yr old....
posted by mippy at 11:30 PM on December 18, 2011

Kjell Westö - an award-winning Swedish-Finnish writer - has turned out a series of wonderful novels which are essentially loveletters to Helsinki, particularly its Swedish-speaking neighborhoods. I'd particularly recommend Där vi en gång gått ( English: Where We Once Walked), Vådan av att vara Skrake (English: The Problem of Being a Skrake), and Drakarna över Helsingfors (English: Kites Over Helsinki). Kites Over Helsinki was made into a movie about a decade ago, but the movie isn't nearly as good as the book. The film is out with subtitles, the translation of his other work is somewhat spotty, unfortunately.
posted by Wylla at 3:47 AM on December 19, 2011

For a real feeling of the unglamourous side of french speaking belgium you could try l'enfant'Enfant_(film)
pretty sure en subs are available.
For me, films like in bruges won't give you a feeling of the place, they're just set there with english/irish actors. The brothers who directed l'enfant have done quite a few similar things.
posted by guy72277 at 4:44 AM on December 19, 2011

About a group of Moroccan guys in Brussels, Les Barons is a really funny movie. I don't know why it rates so low on IMDB... It's a good movie. In French.

is one of the most brilliant movies I have ever seen. It tells the personal histories of people related to the hormone mafia in Limburg (in the northeast of Belgium). It is also a very tough movie to digest, and violent in many ways, but really worth the watch. In Dutch and French.

Seconding "In Bruges", of course. In English.

And I found JCVD quite entertaining. In French.
posted by neblina_matinal at 5:28 AM on December 19, 2011

There's the slightly depressing drama/comedy Sügisball (Autumn ball) (NSFW trailer), which takes place in (a particularly depressing area of) Tallinn.
posted by revikim at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2011

For the Netherlands, try the Grijpstra and De Gier novels by Jan-Willem van de Wetering, and the DeKok novels by Appie Baantjer. They're detective were written in the late 20th century, but they're fun and do give you a feel for the places they describe.
posted by rjs at 10:55 AM on December 19, 2011

It's not fiction but Veronica Buckley's biography of Christina, Queen of Sweden is a fantastic read.
posted by radioedit at 11:08 PM on December 21, 2011

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