I’ve developed an infatuation with Scandinavian cinema. And Scandinavia in general, actually. It may be the beauty of their race, the beauty of the landscapes or the oft-gory storylines that run through their gripping film and television. Or perhaps it is because I enjoy the sound of a foreign tongue and the satisfaction I get when I start to pick up some of the language after excessive viewing. I enjoy deciphering the temperaments and characters of a different culture and discovering new film territory. While I am unable to travel in person, I can satisfy my constant and insatiable desire to explore through film and fantasy.
It all began with the Swedish series of Wallander (remade by the BBC with Kenneth Brannagh as Kurt W.) starring Krister Hendrikksen as the eponymous detective and – the original – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor) star Noomi Rapace’s ex Ola Rapace as one of his subordinate officers.
I worked my way through both series of Danish broadcaster DR’s The Killing (Die Forbrydelsen) and onto DR and Sveriges Television’s The Bridge (Bron/Broen) where my love for Kim Bodnia blossomed. Sexy, racy, clever and highly addictive, Bron/Broen was ten hours of perfection in which the Scandinavian signature dish of macabre crime was finished off hilariously with the clashing personalities of the two police officers – Bodnia as the Dane and Sofia Helin as the semi-autistic Swede – employed to solve the multiplying murder cases. Had Helin been eligible to win an Oscar, she would have deserved to: a mesmerising performance. One thing the Nordic nations have an unsurpassed knack for is creating some of our screens’ most interesting characters.
A trip to Norway further whetted my appetite for more cinematic output from those cold countries. I devoured the Millennium trilogy, albeit three years late. I got my hands on In A Better World (Haevnen) and After The Wedding (Efter brylluppet) – just two of Susanne Bier’s distinctive films. I rushed to the cinema alone and in my pajamas to catch a showing of Headhunters (Hodejegerne) at my local Curzon. I lapped up the purring sounds of the Icelandic language in Jar City (Mýrin) and cursed LoveFilm’s meager selection of titles from that small island. I did search engine searches to find my next fix and compiled lists to work through. I did all this in the face of perplexity at my apparently random affinity for this cluster of countries, and will continue to.
I have started to grow fond of the now familiar faces that pop up again and again – despite divergences in when the film is made and whether it is Danish, Swedish or Norwegian: Mads Mikkelsen (whose brother Lars starred as Mayor Troels Hartmann in series one of The Killing), Kim Bodnia, Sofie Grabol, Marie Bonnevie, Mikael Persbrandt and Krister Henrikksen – who I had the pleasure of watching read Nobel Laureate Tomas Transtromer’s poetry. And who could but recognise Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, poster boy for the film adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s HeadHunters.
Morten Tyldum’s Nesbo adaptation is not the last Scandinavian film to have treated our screens recently. Another Norwegian title – King of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastøy) – recently had a run at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære)– directed and written by the same man who wrote the screenplay for aforementioned Girl with the Dragon tattoo, Nikolaj Arcel – is currently showing at Curzon Cinemas.
This year will also see the re-release and re-marketing of 2010 Swedish crime thriller Easy Money (Snabba Cash). Directed by Daniel Espinosa, the film will engender attention in the American market thanks to Martin Scorsese slapping his name on posters, although the legendary director had no part artistically in the work.
The third and final series of The Killing – the Danes know how to quit while they are ahead, unlike our American friends – is currently being filmed in Copenhagen and will mark the end of an era for DR but very much the beginning of the fame ofJoel Kinnaman. As well as principal roles in The Killing and Easy Money, Kinnaman is the new Robocop. The Vikings conquer us again.
Next on my list: the ne’er-erring DR’s political drama series Borgen. And later this year BBC4 will air more crime drama in the form of Sebastian Bergman. And in the meantime there is LoveFilm’s Nordic back catalogue to keep me going through the rainy summer.
The Last Five Watched:
Dragonflies (2001) Marius Holst
The director who also brought us the more recent King of Devil’s Island sets this love triangle in the wilds of Sweden one summer. A bearded and more over weight than usual Kim Bodnia gets a visit from a dodgy ex-friend (Mikael Persbrandt) and his idyll with his young girlfriend (Maria Bonnevie) is set awry. One expects something sinister to materialise at any moment for the duration of the film… but never quite does. Watchable nonetheless.
The Boss of it All (2006) Lars von Trier
My introduction to the notorious director started with a rare and little-known comedy. Company director Ravn is too cowardly to fire his staff when he sells his IT outfit to a short-tempered Icelander, so he hires an actor to pose as “the boss of it all” to do the dirty work. The awkward situations that ensue make The Office look positively comfortable in comparison – enhanced by Von Trier’s “Dogme 95” bare-bones, no-frills style of film making. Utter genius with a small appearance by The Killing’s lead “lady” – Sara Lund – Sofie Grabol.
Nightwatch (1994) Ole Bornedal
Law student Martin– Nikolaj Coster Waldau – gets a job as night watchman at the local insane asylum – where previous employees have caused a scandal with their necrophilic tendencies. A series of “challenges” exchanged between Martin and best friend Jens (Kim Bodnia) spiral out of control, embroiling Martin’s girlfriend (Sofie Grabol) and the asylum morgue. Genuinely frightening.
Reconstruction (2003) Christoffer Boe
Fantasy and reality become blurred and confused in the imagination of Alex (Nikolaj Lee Caas) as he grows tired of his girlfriend (Maria Bonnevie) and so pursues the beautiful woman he sees on the metro – also played by Bonnevie. Intriguing and confusing. With Krister Hendrikksen and a small appearance by Nicolas Bro – Justice Minister Tomas Buch from the second season of The Killing.
Bleeder (1999) Nicolas Winding Refn
Winding Refn – who has since directed Drive and written the screenplay for Bronson – directed and wrote this dark and bloody tale about White Trash woes: the name gives warning to the films gruesome contents. But not in a way one might imagine. Kim Bodnia stars (again) alongside Mads Mikkelsen.
Five of my Favourites:
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) Niels Arden Oplev
The first and my personal favourite of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. A superb heroine in the form of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a fresh and unusual “love” story between Salander and journalist Mikael Bloomqvist (Michael Niqvist) and engrossing enough to make three hours seem like one. The only third of the series directed by the Danish Oplev.
Headhunters (2011) Morten Tydlum
Tydlum’s rendering of Nesbo’s book of the same name makes it into my favourite films of all time. Nikolaj Coster Waldau is the tall, handsome long-haired hunk that gives crook Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) a complex. Hennie gives a magnificent performance and the film never stops shocking from the first to the last minutes.
Ondskan (2003) Mikael Hafstrom
Erik – played by one of 2004’s Shooting Stars Andreas Wilson – is expelled from school for fighting and packed off to private school for his sins. Evil shows the ugly side of boarding school in the Sweden of the Sixties in this cinematic adaptation of Jan Guillou’s novel.
The Bridge (2012) DR/ Sveriges Television
Not strictly a movie, but this bi-national production has it right on just about every level: photography, cast, storyline, suspense, characters and the right amount of humour. Bodnia and Helin are the stars with other familiar faces – Morten Suuballe from The Killing – assuming supporting roles.
The Killing Series 2 (2009) DR
The second round of Die Forbrydelsen is quite a change from the first – the visuals, the people, the premise. While the first series twisted and turned over twenty episodes through the murder case and trauma endured by the family of murdered school girl Nana Birk Larsen, the second one takes on a much more political and military feel. Bloodshed and murders a given, no doubt. Sara Lund gets an attractive new police partner replacement in the form of Ulrik Strange, played by Mikael Birkkjaer – also husband to the female president in Borgen.