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.

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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 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.

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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 is available to order from Amazon.

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Blu-ray Review: Django, Prepare A Coffin

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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 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 complemented 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 is available to order 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 pedophilia. 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. Forevermore 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 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 a 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 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 pedophilia. 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 overzealous.

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 to order from Amazon.

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: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Arne-Dahl-Complete-Series-DVD/dp/B00C7Q25EO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370727377&sr=8-1&keywords=arne+dahl

Both The Blinded Man and Bad Blood are available from Amazon; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blinded-Man-Intercrime-thriller-ebook/dp/B008FY4T82/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1370727377&sr=8-3&keywords=arne+dahl

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