Tag Archives: Scandinoirvian

Even more newvian

Hello beautiful human. Yes, it is true that I often feel, especially early in the morning when I stare bleakly at the screen with the bleary eyes of the restless non-sleeper, that I am an alien from some other place in the universe who somehow got stranded here on Earth, and that my task (which I have had to accept regardless of what the dude* in Mission Impossible had to say about it) is to schmooze with this planet’s inhabitants, meaning that I am doing a terrible job so may as well get started afresh with a well-deserved compliment. I hope you are doing very well indeed.

Anyway it is a fresh morning in the small town in New Zealand where I live. It is a very nice town that was originally settled by Scandinavians from Norway, Denmark and Sweden though there have been plenty of others jostling for their place in the community history and consciousness, among them the alien! It is a coincidence that I have settled here and that I am a fan of “Scandi” film and television, but it is a nice coincidence. A recent post in this blog was about The Killing, a Danish “noir” series that had three seasons. After finishing that harrowing excursion into the genre, I picked up almost by accident The Bridge, a Swedish-Danish co-production.

The Bridge has had three seasons and its creators promise a fourth, to be released next year. There will be endless elaborations in other countries – there has already been an American spin-off – of the adventures of Swedish detective Saga Noren and a Danish counterpart as the usual line of Scandinastian villain does ever more horrific things to a string of victims who surely, whatever their faults, did not deserve to be treated in that way.

Like The Killing, the storyline of The Bridge is mind-bogglingly elaborate, full of herrings red and otherwise. It may or may not be a sign of my own incisive mind that I picked the villain out from the lineup on first appearance, just like that.

Whodunnit is not, however, what is attractive about this series. Nor is the ever more inventive gore. Saga Noren steals the show, taking The Killing‘s Sarah Lund-style fractured personality and developing it into the most deeply read and sensitively realised portrayal I have ever seen. The Bridge might not be television as it ought to be, but it is nonetheless better not only than The Killing, but also the Swedish Wallander.

Arguably this is the result of the extended development of Noren’s personality. My usual complaints of TV series are present in The Bridge – the apparent need (presumably financial at root) to have a template that is repeated each episode may begin as something eye-catching and even heart-clutching, but after a few instalments is merely irritating.

What is amazing about Noren is the development of a personality that at the outset is already extremely intense. The actress portraying her, Sofia Helin, has said that the character she has brought to life so tellingly is autistic in some unspecified way. Noren is fascinating, and it is a tribute to the actress and to the producers that the character can not only be individual and well portrayed but change and develop through 30 episodes. As her relations with those around her become increasingly complex and the pressure goes on, her responses are heart-wrenching. One can imagine the whole of humanity, plus one alien, cheering her on.

The Killing ended ambiguously (sorry, no spoiler) and the fourth series of The Bridge may follow suit but  I hope it doesn’t. Saga! Triumph over all! We are on your side!

*The man who told the star, Peter Graves, that the tape would self-destruct in five seconds. Graves had a choice, though it seems he always accepted the challenge. See however “You don’t wait ages for a post, and then. . .” on this blog, wearing if you feel the need a tinfoil hat.




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Posted by on February 21, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Scandinoirvian days and nights

When I was a lot younger than I am today, I was a fan of a detective series written by a Swedish couple, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. They have pretty much faded from memory now apart from one particularly chilling story, The Man on the Balcony, and a passage on child-rearing from that or another of the ten novels in the series.

The series they wrote was within the genre “police procedural”, which may more appropriately be thought of as a sub-genre within the detective story, which may be thought of as a sub-genre within the mystery genre, which may be considered a sub-genre of the thriller, which may be considered a sub-genre of sub-literature, a sub-genre of literature! which –

Enough. My point, insofar as I have one, is that these are shifting categories that can exist in their own rights or within larger “theoretical” constructs. They can overlap and never fit perfectly.

Between these two writers’ work and today Swedish fiction and film adaptations of it have till recently pretty much passed me by. I’ve had other concerns, and once I started writing my own thrillers, I left off reading them almost totally.

Stieg Larsson brought Swedish crime fiction back into focus for the rest of the world; I picked up on his trilogy only through word of mouth and then the films made from them – see my earlier post “Grand Larssony”. By then I had run into some other products of the criminal creative genius of what I have decided to call (and claim the credit for, deserved or not*) Scandinoirvian.

There’s a lot of it about. I haven’t seen much of it that has gone on TV as I don’t watch TV very often, and as I haven’t been reading them, the novels they are based on have also been foreign to me..  A Danish series that is raved over has completely missed me, for example, and only lately have I seen the series based on the Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander character.

These are pretty good**, and I’ve now seen the lot – around 35 episodes that have had a beginning, middle and end, as a novel might. Living within the rules and realities of TV means individual episodes that are self-contained, while allowing for “development” in the lives of the characters. The characters have turned out to intersect with the lives of some of the actors portraying them, in one case tragically.

What most makes for the popularity of Wallander is Wallander, an all too human detective whose failings are acknowledged by the man himself and whose professional life ends in a bittersweet denouement it hurt me as a human to watch. The “police procedural” aspect is there, but it is there for Wallander to ignore…his “hunches” lead to solving the cases.

The cases usually involve awful crimes – abduction and enslavement of young girls, sexual predators and murderers of young boys, cults, and the like. They are frequently more bizarre than would ordinarily allow viewers or readers to suspend disbelief, but work because of the human focus rather than the procedural.

The series as film is also for the most part extremely well done, and a credit to the producers, who were also responsible for the Millennium trilogy. Acting is of high quality and the more technical aspects of filming – location, shot composition, sound and so on, are often stunning. Many of the actors through the second of three seasons featured in the Millennium trilogy, but by the end the producers had run out of them and were using newbies for the most part. In media as elsewhere, success breeds success and the worldwide bonanza of the trilogy seems to have brought new blood into the industry.

Despite all this, Wallander is still television, substandard compared to film, though well beyond the quality of what one has come to expect from TV. It was one of the striking features of the Millennium trilogy that the second and third were made for TV yet worked as film – largely, it seems to me, because they were edited down in time and gained a tightness and intensity that would have been missing otherwise. The full versions have been released but I can’t be bothered watching them for precisely that reason

Sweden has not got a monopoly on Scandinoirvian even if it dominates it. I recently saw a not bad Danish film that appeared as a pilot for a series on TV, but the real deal for me is from Iceland, where Jar City is set. It is a terrific police procedural that turns out to be a genetic sensation. While the author of the novel has written a number using the same detective, so far as I can tell there has been no other film.

But there is another, in a league of its own: Noi the Albino. It is a thriller and not a police procedural, and its astonishing climax is among the most eye-opening and jaw-dropping of the century. Like Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s take on the Trojan War, it is arguable whether the blackness of this film is comic, or not. This simply-made but genuinely shocking film points a way forward for thriller writers and film-makers. That means it could take a generation for anyone to notice.

Thanks for reading.

*No hits on Google, unless this one makes it. As the mad scientist raves in Help! it is mine! Mine, do you hear? Except that it’s not – found it after a different order of search…sigh…

** The British series, starring Kenneth Branagh, has got rave reviews but I watched only one episode and dropped it. Too far-fetched and Wallander, despite Branagh’s acting talents and all the kudos, did not seem anything like fully realised.







Posted by on December 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


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