Nordicana – A two day show celebrating Nordic Noir fiction, film and TV (Day 2) by mvo

Yet again those clever folks at the University of Stirling’s Nordic Noir discussion group have done a great job in communicating just how special Nordicana was.

Nordic Noir

 On Sunday the big draw was the Borgen Screening and Dramatising Politics panel discussion. Initially episode 16 was shown, this is said to be the best ever episode of Borgen. It’s the one where the audience find out about Kaspar’s back story and Birgitte has to decide about her daughter taking anti-depressants. The large and varied panel members* spoke about various topics such as the technicalities of screenwriting and certain rules they adhered to such as not referencing any real life political events of the last 30 years. They also spoke about how they chose actors ( a mix of new and established actors) and how the show was not to be about a bad politician as that was nothing new, but rather they would address ‘badness’ by focusing on a politician’s home and family life.
One interesting point that came out of this discussion and Q & A session was…

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Nordicana – A two day show celebrating Nordic Noir fiction, film and TV (Day 1)

Those nice people at the University of Stirling’s Nordic Noir fan discussion group have written a review of Nordicana’s first day that makes me want to experience the event all over again.

Nordic Noir

The length of the queue  on a cloudy Saturday morning in Clerkenwell, London was surprisingly long, showing just how popular the Nordic noir  genre has become.  Upon closer inspection it became obvious that for the vast majority of people attending at 10.30am was probably a civilised time in their day just after morning coffee and a quick scan of their daily broadsheet. Shared passions can bring out the best in people but can also fire up their competitive side.  The crowd was older, calm and seemingly fairly well read and there appeared to be no competitive edge at all.  A journalist, a Finnish translator and a lady who did not own a television all spoke in the queue and they explained that they had been quite captivated with the Nordic noir television dramas and books recently available in the UK.
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Joe Pidgeon, the event’s organiser on behalf of Arrow films explained…

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DVD Review: State Affairs

The explosion of a plane carrying an illegal arms cargo above the Gulf of Guinea and the murder of a sex worker in a Paris car park are somehow intertwined. With a Presidential election looming dark forces in the heart of government will stop at nothing to prevent any politically toxic information from leaking into the public domain. Nora Chahyd (Rachida Brakni) is a police officer of Algerian origin who is prepared to go lone wolf and head the investigation no matter what cost to her career and life.

Adapted from a novel by Dominique Manotti, State Affairs is a complex thriller directed by Éric Valette (Braquo) that is not ashamed to celebrate it’s enthusiasm for Americana. The film’s Gallic Noir credentials are impeccable; André Dussollier starred in Micmacs, Rachida Brakni appeared in Chaos and is married to Eric Cantona with whom she fronts a fashion label but in emphasising State Affair’s French connections we might accidentally overlook the movie’s implicit agenda of being a love letter to that most American of genres, the Western. Through use of incidental music, poster placement, and narrative tropes, State Affairs illustrates how a specific genre has been imported into European culture and modified before being exported back to its spiritual homeland.

Attracted to the property because of the characters moral ambiguity, Valette, in conjunction with his screenwriters, elected to retain the overall story structure albeit with some streamlining to ensure the adaptation remained coherent and emotionally satisfying within the available screen time. Amongst the revisions made to the story is an updating of the timeline, in the book events take place in Mitterand era but now they occur in twenty first century France, albeit a version with an unnamed President. Other amendments include Nora Chahyd being a Muslim who doesn’t observe Ramadan which creates so many potential layers of meaning in terms of a French cultural identity possibly being how more important to the character than adherence to a religious belief system.

Over two hundred years have passed since the French Revolution and yet characters still refer to the ‘new Republic’. The film establishes very quickly that the ideals which were behind the state’s founding have been compromised by a trail of corruption the leads all the way to the Presidential office. The tainting of the promised land and debasement of the principals underpinning a young and fragile society is a theme prevalent in many Westerns and by by focusing on Nora Chahyd’s quest to uncover the truth and bring the guilty parties to justice the filmmakers are drawing from another common trope; the outsider who enters a community and despite insurmountable odds wages a battle to reclaim the land and restore moral certainty.

The Western motifs are carried over into the score which is comprised of a mixture of original pieces in the vein of Ennio Morricone, Gianfranco and Gian Piero Reverberi’s work and archival recordings from classic Spaghetti Westerns (did I spot a snatch of Django, Prepare a Coffin’s bass theme?). Further proof of the director’s affection for the genre is provided by the use of classic Western posters adorning the walls of the detective’s department within the police station, most notably Johnny Hamlet.

This frenetic thriller is brimming with action and intrigue. Loaded with subplots that dissect the heart of modern democracy and show it to be as black as a lump of coal State Affairs is blessed with a high-reaching script that opens with a bang and then accelerates the pace right up until the film’s final moments.

State Affairs can be ordered from Amazon:


Blu-ray Review: Django, Prepare A Coffin


In historical accounts of the Spaghetti Western the Django films are often overshadowed by Siegio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy despite having at least eighty entries in the franchise, albeit of questionable legitimacy with the most recent being Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Whilst not a direct sequel, Tarantino’s film drew heavily from themes prevalent in the original films specifically a focus on wreaking revenge on an evil capitalist for the suffering Django’s wife has endured. With increased interest in the franchise since the release of the Tarantino film Arrow Films has given the 1968 sequel Django, Prepare A Coffin a HD restoration and Blu-ray release.

First appearing in the eponymously titled 1966 film, Django was originally portrayed as a Civil War veteran drifting across a newly reconstructed America . Dragging a sealed coffin across inhospitable terrains Django’s journey would not end until he had found the person responsible for this wife’s murder. Criticised at the time for its excessive violence the film was denied a certificate in Sweden and it wouldn’t be awarded one in the UK until 1993. Irrespective of whatever problems the film may have had in gaining a release in certain European territories it found an appreciative audience in Afro-Carribean countries, most notably Jamaica. In recent years the film, or rather its soundtrack gained a new audience when the it was sampled by Gnarls Berkley on the worldwide hit Crazy.

The precise number of sequels to the 1966 film is almost impossible to pin down with estimates varying from eighty to over a hundred but for the most part these are considered by aficionados to be unofficial. The criteria for deciding what constitutes a real ‘Django‘ film from the many imitators appears to be to be the participation of original lead actor Franco Nero the director Sergio Corbucci.

What differentiates Django, Prepare A Coffin from the numerous unofficial sequels is that a concerted effort was made to secure the services of Franco Nero and it was only when it became apparent that the production could not accommodate his commitments to an American project the decision was made to recast the role.

With a new Django on board played by Terrence Hill (They Call Me Trinity) the character’s backstory is substantially revised to the extent that this film could be called a reboot. Retiring from a life as a gun for hire in the services of an ambitious senator, Django heads off for pastures new with his wife. Whilst en route to California with a consignment of gold the trailer is attacked, his wife killed and Django left for dead.

Following the template laid down by the first film Django, Prepare a Coffin is a tale of revenge albeit somewhat less violent than the original. The subtitle plays on the audience’s foreknowledge of what is hidden inside Django’s coffin and the delaying of it’s reveal is part of an overall narrative strategy which is based upon misdirection and the implied promise of greater action to come.

Whilst not as well regarded as the 1966 film, Django, Prepare A Coffin is a classic example of the B-movie strand of Spaghetti Westerns. It most probably hasn’t looked as good at any time since the original release. In all previous domestic versions the image was softer, colours less defined. The restoration by Cinecteca di Bologna greatly enhances the range of visual information and this is particularly noticeable when viewing the exterior sequences. The overall package is complimented by some very well put together bonus content including an interview with Spaghetti Western expert Kevin Grant, optional English and Italian soundtracks, and a booklet by Howard Hughes.

Django, Prepare A Coffin can be ordered from Amazon:

DVD Review: Accused

Continuing its programme of complementing the release of new series with titles sourced from the archives of Scandinavian film studios, Arrow Films brings us it’s latest DVD, Accused. Made in 2006 the film has parallels with Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 movie The Hunt in that both are concerned with the consequences of allegations of paedophilia. Whereas the 2012 movie focused on the emotional and social consequences of an innocent man being accused of molestation, Accused‘s primary focal point is the slow destruction of a family when an allegation of incest is made by the daughter.

Director Jacob Thuesen and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson have crafted a film that vacillates between dreamlike and nightmarish .The decision to be ambiguous about the accused’s guilt or innocence for much of the film is a deliberate editorial choice that results in the viewer feeling confused over what emotions should be experienced: sympathy or relief that justice is being metered out. Similarly, the stylistic choices made in the use of framing and lighting appear to have been made on the basis of not creating or accentuating a particular interpretation.

The film takes its inspiration from an incident in screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson’s childhood when a man from the local community was arrested for raping a woman at a train station. Forever more tainted by the allegation he would no longer be regarded within the locality solely as a father, a friend, or good employee. From that moment onwards doubt would remain about his self proclaimed innocence.

Whilst promoted as a Sofie Gråbøl starring movie, Accused’s lead actor is Troels Lyby who plays Henrik a father protesting his innocence, fighting against suspicion, whilst trying to prevent his wife from leaving him. With his wife Nina, Henrik should have an idyllic middle class life but something is wrong, something is very wrong. The teenage daughter, Stine, should be an an ever present physical presence around which the family revolves but is instead mysteriously withdrawn and it is this absence that creates a crack which has the power to destroy the very foundations of the household.

Henrik is a swimming instructor, and this choice of career allows the director and screenwriter to play a highly intelligent game with the viewer in which they explore the plurality of cinematic metaphors associated with water; source of life and representation of sexuality. As instructor, Henrik is in a position of responsibility that requires him to act as both carer and mentor, this parallels his duties as father so therefore the potential risk should the allegations be proven is very great in terms of the home and the safety of those being tutored.

At first it seems as though Henrik has a comfortable life: married to Nina, a secure job and the trust and respect of his colleagues and those being taught to swim. From the opening frames we, the viewers, know that this life must surely be torn apart, and throughout the rest of the film we are not quite sure if it can ever again be put back together. Even if found not guilty will parents continue to allow him to teach their children to swim? Might the the court of public opinion carry out its own independent verdict and sentencing?

At personal, familial, and social levels this film explores the devastation caused by that the spectre of paedophilia. That we are unsure of Henrik’s guilt or innocence for much of the movie creates an interesting situation in which we must explore our own attitudes to how cases are investigated, and if the support network for those making allegations is effective or over zealous.

An indispensable DVD. In common with Vinterberg’s The Hunt this is a film that will remain with you long after the end credits.

Accused is available on DVD from Amazon:

Nordicana – A Review

Exactly when the first convention occurred is still very much open to debate. Written records dating back to the 1930s prove the existence of a creatively active fan network long before the age of DVDs and Twitter. In 1935 two struggling young would be comic book professionals premiered an embryonic version of Superman in a mimeographed fanzine three years before the character made its first appearance in Action Comics. What we consider to be modern fandom may have been born in the 1960s when American enthusiasts came together to launch a letter writing campaign in an attempt to save Star Trek from cancellation.

Despite a substantial amount of evidence demonstrating its history in terms of being a vibrant and dynamic social network the press has displayed a tendency to stigmatize fandom through the use of words such as ‘geek’ or by portraying fan behaviour as abnormal.

William Shatner famously appeared on the American comedy show Saturday Night Live telling fans to ‘Get a life’. More recently, in an episode of The Sarah Silverman Program Christopher Eccelston played a character called Dr. Lazer Rage which parodied his Doctor Who screen persona and ,via a direct to camera address, characterised fan behaviour as abnormal and social destructive. Negative stereotypes such as these have very little basis in reality and as the Nordicana event showed, fans of Nordic Noir have active lives, are creative, celebratory, erudite, and inclusive in terms of welcoming newcomers into the accompanying social network.

Nordicana was a two day convention specifically designed to commemorate Scandinavian culture. The first event of its kind, this expo was sponsored by Arrow Films, Danish Arts Council, Film Institute Denmark and Danish Broadcasting Corporation in association with English and Danish PEN. What Nordicana represented was a bold initiative that demonstrated how in a relatively short space of time Nordic Noir has gone from being an under explored literary curiosity to a visible brand with an ever growing fanbase that is warm and welcoming.

Housed inside the Farmiloe Building, a venue that in the 1980s was the base of operations for the Clerkenwell Crime Synidcate it has more recently been featured in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. That the Batman connection was not mentioned in pre-event publicity suggests that perhaps Scandinavian literature, films and TV shows have enough recognition factor within the commercial marketplace to not need propping up via being directly connected to an American owned intellectual property.

Covering so many areas of Scandinavian culture the event could all too easily have been a scatter gun affair in which the various elements were just thrown out into the arena for consumption but instead it was an acknowledgement that both Nordic Noir and a fascination with Scandinavia means has a multitude of meanings for the many sectors of fandom. As this is not a fan community that fetishises specific authors, movies, or series and condemns others this remarkable openness was built into the event’s schedule and the choice of exhibitors. With so many activities slotted into the weekend two separate and unconnected fans may have very well come away convinced that they had experienced entirely different events.

Emphasizing active engagement and celebration Nordicana enabled fans to interact directly with authors, actors, and exhibitors. For many, this would have been the first time that they would have the opportunity to meet the Scandinavian actors and writers whose work they had seen on BBC Four, DVD or in print. Contact was not restricted to the panels or autograph sessions as the organisors had taken great care to foster an atmosphere in which the guests and the attendees were united in expressing their enthusiasm. Here was an event in which fans could chat with guests in the bar area and meet the people from Arrow Films who take great care and attention in sourcing the finest Scandinavian films and TV shows for the benefit of our ever enlarging DVD collections.

For two days it really felt as though one Victorian building had been transported to Scandinavia. With so much high quality food and drink on offer as well as live music from some very talented performers in addition to screenings and talks the convention was elevated from being a question and answer event into a simulation of a Nordic summer arts festival. The playful and creative selection of events and exhibitors led to an exuberant atmosphere in which Twitter friends met face to face for the first time and found that they had even more in common than their online profiles suggest whilst complete strangers could meet in an autograph line or queuing for a drink and become social media buddies. Nordicana was testament to how swiftly Nordic Noir has gone from a little known subgenre to a fully fledged cultural phenomena and an opportunity to reward long term enthusiasts and welcome new ones.

Fans of Nordic Noir frequently find themselves simultaneously gazing in multiple directions; on the one hand attention is firmly focused on what new books, shows, and films will be coming to the UK within the next few months and on the other curiosity may lead them to engage in finding tantalising hints of information about those titles which up until now haven’t managed to secure distribution within English language territories. Prior to Nordicana this information was fragmentary but for the first time fans of Nordic Noir and media professionals were presented with a two day window in which they could pool their collective knowledge banks and suddenly we were given detailed facts about Sidse Babbet Knudsen’s career choices prior to Borgen, Marie Askehave’s latest series, how David Howson translated The Killing from TV into a cracking book, why Arne Dahl introduced the cleaner into the TV adaptations of his novels, Adam Price’s dual role as chef and writer of Borgen, etc…

In film and literature, Nordic Noir existed long before BBC4 screened The Killing or UK publishers printed Steig Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy. When Ian Ousby’s The Crime and Mystery Book was first published in 1997 it was quite rightly regarded as an excellent overview of the genre. One that managed to weave a coherent historical narrative account despite having to accommodate disparate schools of crime writing. Texts such as this are provisional, it is impossible to produce a permanent record as new perspectives and/or discoveries necessitate revision. In 1997 when Ousby’s book was first issued Scandinavian crime fiction ma\y have been regarded by the critical community with little more than mild curiosity. The book devotes a single paragraph to Swedish fiction and does not consider the cited authors to be the vanguard of a new movement. With so few titles available to us back then it was practically impossible to predict that Nordic Noir would become a commercially viable mode of fiction with an appreciative audience large enough to warrant a two day convention let alone define it’s generic parameters.

Despite the dual modes, literary and visual, Nordicana showed that fans of Nordic Noir are not divided. This was an event in which the very act of attendance was a statement that expressed an emotional attachment for all forms of Scandinavian drama. Nordicana was an instance in which the participation was an opportunity for fans to show how the act of being an enthusiast has brought meaning to their lives, given them access to a an incredible social circle, and led to a desire to learn more about and directly experience Scandinavian culture. Nordic Noir may still be a relatively young subgenre but those who attended Nordicana may very well testify that they were enhanced by it and would be very eager to attend another convention. Being a fan is an amazing thing. Being a fan of Nordic Noir is Scandi-tastic.

DVD Review: Arne Dahl

81EOVs67rDL._SL1500_ In the recently published Nordic Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV Barry Forshaw evaluated Sweden’s rich legacy in terms of contributions to the genre. As well as being the largest country, in geographical terms, within the Scandinavian region Sweden has been a dominant force within crime fiction ever since Sjöwall and Wahlöö created a new template which used the genre’s conventions to explore contemporary social issues. More recently Henning Mankell and Steig Larrson have continued and advanced this tradition with significant critical and commercial rewards. Into this ever enlarging cannon of Swedish crime writers comes a new name, Arne Dahl.

Whilst amassing a substantial number of published credits since 1990 it was in 1998 that literary critic Jan Arnald gave birth to his better known Arne Dahl pseudonym and started writing crime fiction in tandem with his more analytical journalistic output . In the years since the publication of the first Intercrime novel, The Blinded Man (originally entitled Misterioso) the Arne Dahl books have sold more than 2.5 million copies, been translated into 25 languages published in over 30 countries and been the recipient of several high profile prizes including both Danish and German Crime Writing Awards. p01jwpz7 With Jan Arnald/Arne Dahl’s profile riding high on the back of BBC Four’s screening of the series, Arrow Films has given the show a DVD release and Random House imprint Vintage is publishing English language translations of the first two Intercrime novels, The Blinded Man and Bad Blood with the promise of To the Top of the Mountain and Europa Blues to follow later in the year.

Produced by production company Filmlance, for Sweden’s equivelent of the BBC, SVT, Arne Dahl is a ten part series that adapts fhe first five Intercrime novels. Demonstrating their commitment to making the best possible crime show Filmlance have ensured that some of the finest directors currently working in Swedish television get to helm episodes, most notably Harald Hamrell who is best known to fans of Scandinavian TV for Beck and Real Humans. Arne Dahl The novels are some of the most intelligent examples of crime fiction to have been translated into English within recent years. Each book is densely packed with social and cultural information wrapped up in a bow made of gripping tension. To ensure that they produced adaptations which did the books justice and yet played to the strengths of TV as a medium Filmlance secured the services of Arne Dahl in an advisory capacity, Taking an active interest in the scripting and casting Dahl made sure that overall spirit of his prose was not compromised.

The first Intercrime novel, The Blinded Man, was published in the late ’90s and some minor modifications were required to bring the stories bang up to date most notably in terms of home entertainment technology, working practices, and greater strides with regards gender equality in the recruitment of senior police officer.s. That the overall beats of the story remain relatively unchanged is testament to Dahl’s understanding of the criminal psyche and some excellent plotting. The series focuses on an elite team within the Swedish police force known as the A-Unit. The team investigates new forms of criminality that have begun to appear in Sweden since globalisation became a reality. Headed by CID inspector Jenny Hultin (Irene Lindh) the A-Unit explore the darker recesses of modern Swedish society. Cases that are too sensitive or specialised for regular police departments are passed on to the team, Amongst the cases that they investigate is an attempt to put capitalism at risk by a serial killer targeting financiers, the use of Vietnam War era execution methods, a drug barons concealing his crimes, and the murder of a neuroscientist which triggers an even more more sinister chain of events.

Hand-picked by Hultin, each team member has specific skills which must be combined those of their colleagues in order to solve the case and apprehend the guilty party. It is only when functioning as a team that progress can be made but Arne Dahl has saddled each member with enough baggage to break the back of the most strong willed of people. Private tensions are such that at times it seems as though professional and private lives may simultaneously self destruct. 35420 At the start of the series we are introduced to Paul Hjelm (Shanti Ronay), an idealistic officer with a spotless career record who throws the rule book out of the window when he makes a judgement call during a siege that saves a life knowing that it might terminate his career. More alive when on the beat than at home he needs the A-Unit not only only to save his career but also to give his life meaning. With each other team member we see echoes of Hjelm’s fractured self, whatever professional accolades they have earnt has been at a great cost to their emotional well-being. Paradoxically, it is only when operating as a team that old wounds are healed and long standing psychological scars are healed.

In terms of both the fiction and production this a very well cast series. The team members function as individual components of a group psyche as such are less effective when separated from the gestalt. As any media professional will testify casting a series is an inexact science based on personal hunches that don’t always pay off but with this series they have secured the services of first rate actors who perfectly inhabit the skin of the characters they are playing. That Gunnar Nyberg (Magnus Samuelson) is played to great effect and with remarkable sensitivity by a former winner of the World’s Strongest Man contest shatters an ill founded myth that people from other disciplines can’t enter the acting profession and experience anything resembling success. The guest roles are also cast with absolute precision but the standout performances is given by Cesar Sarachu as the Obi-Wan like Cleaner who imparts mystical information at the right moment.

Arne Dahl is that most remarkable of things; a success in both mediums in spite or because each has been specifically tailored . Dahl’s career as a literary critic means that he has an acute sense of what constitutes a really cracking narrative but, thankfully, he knows precisely when to leave his more esoteric hat at the door thereby ensuring that the emotional journey follows at its own pace and is not dictated by a theoretical model. The series is an essential edition to any Scandi fans DVD library. Once the DVDs have been watched and rewatched go out and buy the books – precision perfect prose and enough subtle differences to make savouring the stories all over again worthwhile.

Arne Dahl can be ordered on DVD from Amazon:

Both The Blinded Man and Bad Blood are available from Amazon; Image