Wallace on Screen: The Krimis Films

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Speak to Germans of a certain age and the chances are that they will remember a series of films opening with a voiceover proclaiming ‘hier spricht Edgar Wallace’ (‘this is Edgar Wallace speaking’). A total of 32 films were made as part of a series that has become known as “Krimis” films. Still shown on television and available on DVD and Blu-ray the films have preserved Wallace’s reputation in Germany while he is largely forgotten in his homeland.

Not the first German adaptations of Wallace’s novels. Five German-language adaptations are known to have been produced between 1927 – 34 (there may have been others).  Why did a Danish-German production company decide to embark on a fresh series of screen adaptations? For a country seeking to banish its past and create a new inclusive sense of nationhood what appeal was there in seeing recreations of 1920s England culled from the work of an imperialist?

During his lifetime Germany was a strong market for Wallace.  German publishers were late in discovering Wallace’s commercial potential. The first translated novel was issued in 1925. Discovering the existence of a massive back catalogue of titles publisher Wilhelm Goldmann traveled to London and met with Wallace to secure the rights to issue translated editions of all title that had been published in the UK.

Prior to 1925, Wallace expressed amusement upon receipt of translated editions of his novels. Success in Germany made him more conscious of the dividends earned from overseas sales. For a man whose profligacy had brought him close to ruin the steady injection of revenue from a new market was most welcome.

In common with most authors of his generation, Wallace had written scathing commentary about Germans during World War I. In peacetime he became more amenable and is reported to have had a deep affection for Berlin. In this new market, he was soon to become a major celebrity. Reports of visits to Germany suggest that hundreds of people would turn up to catch a glimpse of him at train stations.

In the post-war era, sales of Wallace’s books in the UK declined while Germany remained a steady market. With sales in freefall, at least in the UK, the estate sold rights to adapt Wallace’s novels for film and the stage to Anglo-Amalgamated for the UK and Commonwealth and Danish film producer Preben Phillipsen for German-speaking territories.

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Wallace’s novels had been a publishing sensation when first published in Germany. Would German audiences who had grown accustomed to American crime thrillers be willing to view domestically filmed adaptations of English thriller novels?

Produced, at least initially, in tandem with the UK’s Anglo-Amalgamated series, the German adaptations retained the novels period settings. Running until 1972, early films in the series were relatively faithful adaptations of the source material. Later films would be more liberal in what elements would be retained and/or discarded.

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Production commenced with the adaptation Der Frosch mit der Maske (The Frog with the Mask). Early entries in the series were filmed in Danish studios. Later films were shot in facilities based in Hamburg and Berlin.

With box office returns healthier than expected it was clear to the producers and distributors that German audiences would be willing to see further installments. Production was ramped up for further entries in a domestically produced franchised that would ultimately comprise of 32 films.

Dismissed by critics, today the films have a cult following. Posts by fans in forums and Facebook groups discuss production details and celebrate deficiencies. In 2004 nearly two million German people saw a parody film, Der WIxxer, during its theatrical run.

For modern viewers, the presence of unconvincing sets and repeated stock footage may enhance the sense of guilty pleasure when watching a ‘Krimi’ film. What appeal did the films have for the first wave of ticket buying cinemagoers? The films blending of genres and increased self-reflexivity in later productions makes it difficult to classify the series. Incorporating themes and elements from film noir, horror, Golden Age detective fiction, comedy, German Expressionism, and the musical the majority of Krimi films forms conform to a narrative template. Critics and academics have noted repeated elements present in most Krimi films; masked killers, an investigator, comic sidekick, castles and/or mansions, and excessive use of fog.

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The imagined version of 1920s England seen throughout the series has puzzled critics attempting to identify why the films were initially popular. Aside from stock footage, location scenes were filmed in redressed German streets. The England represented in the films never existed.

Commentators have suggested various reasons for the films’ appeal including socially conservative ideology, audience enjoying the appeal of identifying the villain before the investigator and seeing foreign generic forms absorbed into a distinctly German cultural product.

 

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DVD Review: The Idealist

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Riveting conspiracy thriller exposes a real-life Danish political scandal.

The story of a journalist’s investigation into the cover-up of a nuclear accident is a gripping drama that may represent the closest Danish cinema has come to producing its own equivalent of All The President’s Men.  A tense drama cast in the mould of classic 1970s conspiracy thrillers The Conversation and The Parallax View, director Christina Rosendahl’s second feature film is based on journalist Poul Brink’s book The Thule Affair – A Universe of Lies.

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Working at a local radio station Poul Brink (Peter Plauborg) uncovered one of the darkest chapters in modern Danish history. His commitment to revealing the truth about the nation’s nuclear policy during the cold war rewrote history. Batting against the Danish and US governments, he was prepared to risk imprisonment in his quest to uncover the facts about a botched cleanup operation.

The events recreated in The Idealist continue to resonate for Danish and Greenlandic audiences.  Poul Brink’s findings revealed that Denmark’s foreign and nuclear policies were based on a succession of lies.

In 1968 a B-52 bomber crashed in Greenland close to a US military base. The plane was carrying four nuclear weapons. Three were salvaged and one was lost. All references to the missing bomb were removed from official documents. 18 years later, Poul Brink discovered Danish workers involved in the clean-up operation were suffering from a variety of skin diseases, including cancer. Initially sceptical, Brink’s journey into the murky world of international politics will shatter a deceased Prime Minister’s reputation and lead to renewed calls for Greenland’s official independence.

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Underscoring her commitment to presenting an honest version of events, director Christina Rosendahl incorporates archival footage of the cleanup operation and news reports. Restrained in its treatment of the allegations contained within Brink’s book, The Idealist is an effective attempt to highlight abuse of power and dramatise one man’s determination to expose the truth.

Despite the story’s emotional potency and its continued relevance for Greenlanders seeking independence, the director has chosen to present a cool and largely understated account. Possibly the most significant film about Danish journalism, The Idealist‘s commitment to authenticity enhances its spellbinding power. An intelligent and challenging account of a reporter stumbling across a story that will transform how the nation views its own history.

The presence of high-calibre actors, including The Killing‘s Søren Malling, brings gravitas to the production. The Idealist is an impressive thriller that deserves to make headlines.

The Idealist is available to order from Amazon.

BBC News report of the B-52’s crash and search for the fourth bomb.

Film Review: In The Blood

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Smells Like Surgical Spirit: Group of medical students learn that every choice has consequences.

Having established himself as one of Scandinavia’s most prolific screenwriters Rasmus Heisterberg makes his debut as a director with an existential drama about friendship and the loss of innocence.

For a group of medical students, summer is a time without worries or repercussions. The age of responsibility has yet to dawn and as they prepare for one final year of study four young men party hard and chase girls without considering what worries tomorrow might bring.

Best-known to UK audiences for his screenplays for King’s Game, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Royal Affair, and Northwest, Rasmus Heisterberg’s long-standing collaboration with director Nikolaj Arcel has been rewarded with a Silver Bear for best screening at the Berlin Film Festival and an Oscar nomination. In Denmark, films based on screenplays he has written or co-written have sold 4.3 million tickets at the box office.

Rasmus Heisterberg is set to collaborate once again with Nikolaj Arcel on RFK a biographical drama about Robert F. Kennedy starring Matt Damon.

His directorial debut is a meditative paean for a transitional age. Focusing on a group of friends who enjoy one last hedonistic summer before they are forced to accept the responsibilities of adulthood, In the Blood is a melancholic portrait of discovery and transformation.

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Simon and his best friend Knud have enjoyed a seemingly never-ending succession of wild parties and outrageous pranks while studying for their exams. Cracks begin to appear in the friendship when Knud (Elliott Crosset Hove) and two other housemates decide to put their shared house on the market. Simon (Kristoffer Bech) is not ready to bid farewell to a hard drinking lifestyle free of consequences.

Plans to spend a semester in South America are thrown into turmoil when Knud realises he still has feelings for his estranged girlfriend. The longstanding friendship seems destined to fall apart because Simon is happy to spend his time stealing surgical spirit to entertain people at parties while evading the oncoming storm of adulthood. As the pair diverge Simon plunges headfirst on a path of self-destruction.

A youth movie not made for an exclusively young audience. In The Blood‘s sketch of alienation and self-actualisation will remind viewers of those long forgotten days when adulthood was a terrifying event on a fast-approaching horizon. Relive those last summers with this elegy for a more innocent time.

In the Blood is screening at the Nordic-Baltic Film Festival.

DVD Review: The Hour of the Lynx

Borgen director and Danish Academy award winner Soren Kragh-Jacobsen returns to the big screen with a haunting psychological drama that reunites The Killing‘s Sofie Gråbøl and Søren Malling. Adapted from a play by Per Olov Enquist, The Hour of the Lynx sees Gråbøl playing Helen, a priest who is struggling to convince herself that her work has any meaning for the modern world. Ministering to the spiritual needs of a small community, she preaches sermons at poorly attended services. Unable to contain the barely concealed frustration she utters a mild obscenity during preparations for a Confirmation ceremony and is admonished by a parishioner for defiling a place of worship.

An opportunity for personal salvation arrives when the church is visited by Lisbeth, a duty psychiatrist (Signe Egholm Olsen of Borgen) at the nearby secure hospital. For several weeks the institution has been running a behavioural experiment studying how patients respond to sharing their personal space with animals. The killer of an elderly couple has been assigned a cat. Initially unresponsive to treatment, he becomes more animated when partnered with a feline. Early reports suggest that the study has been a success but then something goes wrong and the patient is placed on suicide watch after an unsuccessful attempt to end his life. Convinced that self-murder is part of God’s plan he is determined to try again.

The project is facing imminent shut down so Lisbeth reaches out to the Helen hoping she can form a meaningful emotional connection with the inmate. As the hours tick away until the study is terminated Helen builds a rapport and tries to understand the trauma he has carried with him for so long and why that led him to murder two strangers. Racing against time to save his life, and Lisabeth’s professional reputation, an intense therapy session takes place exposing dark thoughts and painful memories.

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Soren Kragh-Jacobsen has crafted an uncompromising examination of guilt, faith, love, and the power of memory. Compelling in its exploration of the shadowy corners of the human psyche. This elegiac lament for lost innocence asks soul-searching questions about the fragility of beliefs and possibility of redemption. A film based upon distinct oppositions. The claustrophobic environment of a secure hospital is contrasted with the tranquillity of Sweden’s countryside. Minister of faith and scientist have seemingly incompatible perspectives but are forced by circumstance to overcome their mutual suspicions and work together.

Transcending it’s theatrical origins, The Hour of the Lynx is a highly intelligent and emotionally powerful film which effectively fills the cinematic canvas courtesy of nuanced cinematography sympathetic to the script’s intentions and uniformly excellent screen performances.

Steadfastly refusing to sugar coat or trivialise the subject matter, viewers are plunged headfirst into the darker recesses of a troubled soul. This movie will linger in the viewer’s memory. Recommended.

The Hour of the Lynx is available to order from Amazon.

To commemorate this film’s release Ash Loydon has produced a stunning portrait of Sofie Gråbøl.

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See further examples of Ash Loydon’s work at:

http://ashsarthole.blogspot.co.uk/

DVD Review: Northwest

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Long before the Scandi Crime explosion ushered in a wave of interest in all things Nordic, Denmark was making cinematic waves with the revolutionary Dogme 95 manifesto. Timed to coincide with cinema’s centenary celebrations, the document’s publication proposed a new mode of filmmaking that stripped away the excesses of mainstream production and emphasised the recreation of “reality”. Although the movement was wound down in 2002 due to concerns that its tenets had become a restrictive prescriptive framework its influence continues to be felt in contemporary Danish feature film production.

Honouring Dogme’s core ethos of using the medium of film to reconstruct reality without recourse to technical or narrative trickery, Michael Noer’s début motion picture the prison drama R was an uncompromising visceral tour de force shot with hand-held digital cameras and used non-professional actors, some of whom were former inmates. Straddling the boundary between genre and social realism, the film heralded the arrival of a significant screen talent.

For his second feature film, Noer rejects the romanticised version of Copenhagen prevalent in recent films and TV series, offering instead an abrasive and unflinching glimpse at the city’s seedy underbelly. Gritty, tense, and oozing authenticity Northwest is a family drama set against the backdrop of gang war in one of the city’s most impoverished districts.

Casper (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) is a petty thief who dreams of climbing up the gangland ladder. Stealing small scale items for local boss Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jaburi) the young criminal is stuck living at home with his mother (Lene Marie Christensen) who is struggling to raise two other children without a male breadwinner. Yearning to escape from the imprisonment of life under the family roof and claim his place amongst the upper echelons of the local criminal community he starts to moonlight for a rival boss and unwittingly triggers a war between the competing factions. Brother Andy (Oscar Dyekjaer Giese) tosses away his schoolbooks and joins his sibling on a mission that will have repercussions which will be felt for the rest of their lives…

Developed over eighteen months, the storyline was crafted after the director studied the area and its criminal communities with the precision of an anthropologist. Continuing the approach employed in R of engaging members from the area to play roles instead of casting established professional actors Noer is committed to conveying an accurate sense of social realism whilst playing with the conventions of a familiar genre.

Real life brothers Gustav and Oscar Dyekjaer Giese were cast as leads after their mother answered a request on Facebook and sent them along to audition. The director could instantly see the depth of their relationship and knew he had found a pair bristling with raw talent that was equipped for the challenging task of creating two characters bonded by blood that were constantly competing to be crowned senior member of the family.

With R the director formulated a way of making movies that used the screenplay as a blueprint for the story’s structure, allowing performers to internalize what the script was asking from them and improvise. The end results were a composite of scripted moments and primal honesty plucked from the actor’s life experiences. Whilst shooting Northwest actors were specifically instructed not to look at the script during shooting and had to rely on their memories of where characters were supposed to be at the end of a specific scene. Without recourse to the printed text, Noer’s screen talent created new and more authentic dialogue. Encouraged to their character’s inner truth the cast of players drew from their own experiences of living in a crime-ridden and socially deprived region.

Shot in a documentary style, this hard hitting thriller is underscored by a streak of mordant humour. A shock-filled eye-opening film, Northwest’s recreation of a life trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty and criminality is so successful the film deserves to be placed alongside La Haine, Christiane F, and the Pusher trilogy as peerless examples of European cinema shining a light onto the forgotten and neglected who roam amongst us but are imprisoned by inequality and circumstance.

Northwest is available to order from Amazon.

DVD Review: Exit

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As the latest actor to play Thomas Harris’ notorious fictional cannibalistic psychiatrist, Mads Mikkelsen is currently in the midst of being elevated from cult film and TV icon to mainstream stardom. Mikkelsen is that rare breed of performer, equally at home being either a leading man or a character actor. Never failing to deliver an intriguing screen performance, Mikkelsen is an actor ever cautious Hollywood studios can cast secure in the knowledge that not only will he deliver the goods but that his screen persona has a strong enough recognition factor to attract an audience. Such is the confidence in his latest project, Hannibal, that several cable networks were reportedly willing to step into the breach and buy the series in the event that NBC declined to order a second season. Capitalising on his new found fame within the American market, Mikkelsen is currently shooting a Western, The Salvation, and recently leant his vocal talents to the forthcoming Kung Fu Panda 3.

Within the English speaking world, Mads Mikkelsen first came to prominence playing the villain in the 2006 James Bond reboot Casino Royale. Cast as a financier of international terrorist activity, Mikkelson’s underplaying of the part conveyed a sense of vulnerability and cold steel which made the character all too believable. Eschewing arch theatrics that came to be part and parcel of a tired franchise, Mikkelson made the viewer accept the possibility that figures like Le Chiffre might be exploiting our economic system to fund the activity of groups that are determined to destroy our political, social and cultural institutions. Mikkelson joined the pantheon of Bond villains having recently completed principal photography on a Swedish action thriller, Exit, which also explored the corrosive impact of high-risk speculative forms of capitalism.

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After spending several years working for an IT investment company Jesper Kärrbrink and Håkan Ramsin decided to write a pot boiling novel about an innocent man on the run after being accused of murder. Pooling their knowledge of the industry combined with a mutual love for American film and TV thrillers, most notably The Fugitive, they produced a page-turning thriller that came to the attention of Swedish writer and director Peter Lindmark. Enthralled by the novel’s overall story structure Lindmark began crafting an adaptation which had greater layers of moral ambiguity.

Produced several years before the global financial crisis erupted, Exit is a remarkable thriller. Viscerally exciting and socially conscious, the film shines a light onto an unethical and destructive form of financial services. Shot through with an acute genre awareness, Exit pays homage to films like The Fugitive but transcends them thanks to a degree of intelligence in the scripting process that transforms what could all too easily have been an innocent man on the run storyline into a murkier affair in which inevitability is tossed out of the window. Motives and personal histories may not be quite what they seem at first. From certainty to uncertainty, Lindmark takes us on a voyage awash with ever increasing incertitude and feverish jeopardy.

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Mikkelson plays Thomas Skepphult, a highly successful venture capitalist who is at the top of his game. A partner in a flourishing firm, he knows which rules to break or bend. Cautious with the reputation of his firm, Nova Investments, he engages in the long game. Information is essential to Thomas, he needs to know all the variables before even reaching negotiations.

Unable to tolerate the reckless activity of partner Morgan Nordenstråle (Samuel Fröler) Thomas and Nova Investment’s other principal shareholder Wilhelm Rahmberg (Börje Ahlstedt) have no option but to fire the miscreant. Morgan’s father was an architect in the success of Nova Investment so being told that he very nearly destroyed the company is a bitter blow. With the walls of his world tumbling down Morgan exits the room on the pretext of collecting a photograph of his family. Whilst in his private office Morgan takes aim with a shotgun and blows his brans out. Selling the tragedy to the viewers Lindmark shows us a headless corpse dripping blood all over a picture of a family…

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Seven years later and Thomas Skepphult is king of his domain. Married with a daughter, an expensive waterfront property, boat, and, ironically, a financially secure future courtesy of the very deal which led to the dismissal of Morgan Nordenstråle. Having seen the shares in the investment rise seven hundred percent Thomas believes that market conditions are ripe for selling to a rival group but first he needs approval from minority shareholders. The trade is openly challenged in a public meeting on the basis of the purchaser’s ethical practices. To avoid the deal falling through Thomas engages in a bit of horse trading with smooth operator Gabriel Mörk (Johan Rabaeus). In the seven years since Morgan’s suicide Thomas has learnt a trick or three about how to play his opponents in a business deal so withdrawing from a planned oil investment to reduce Mörk’s tax liability is a price worth paying if it means that Nova Investment can offload its shares in Cataegis and reap a huge profit.

Having tamed the metaphorical beast, Thomas prepares to slay demon. Selling the shares should be a swift and clean transaction. One that will transform Nova Investment’s fortunes. However, representatives from the Belarus based company supposed to be purchasing this stock have other ideas. Information has come to light surrounding the founder and owner of Cataegis that has made Extreme Capital Group unwilling to accept the terms on the table.

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Denied a final hurrah. Wilheim announces his decision to retire and gives Thomas the keys to the kingdom. Dreams of living in sunnier climes with his wife Louise (Kristina Törnqvist) are destined never to be fulfilled for that very same night Wilheim is murdered.

Arrested on suspicion of murder, Thomas is plunged into a world in which a player on the other side is pulling all the strings. Someone that knows him intimately and is able to anticipate his every move has laid a series of traps designed to destroy his life. With his family in mortal danger, Thomas must escape from police custody to protect them, prove his innocence, and confront the killer.

Detective Malm (Ia Langhammer) thinks that Wilheim’s murder is a simple open and shut case. Steadfast in her conviction that she has proved the means, method, and motive Malm’s primary quest is to recapture Thomas and ensure he stands trial. Reprising a trope from TV and film versions of The Fugitive, the boundaries of her investigation become ever more liquid the longer Thomas is at large. What began as a homicide case becomes a journey into a dark world in which nothing is what it seems at first glance.

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With a generic template in place, Lindmark embraces the forms and conventions and transforms them into something quite extraordinary. Playing with the script’s theme of corruption and contamination he gets starts overturning expectations and subverting tropes. The unflappable hero who must wage war with an unseen foe is replaced with a more ambiguous figure. His true nature is one of the many mysteries blended into a script that reveals the beauty of its construction on second viewing. Further proof of a creative team operating in pursuit of a shared vision is that the enigmas running throughout the film are cunningly communicated by the cinematographer.

Crammed with conundrums, Exit’s sharp screenplay tosses the viewer into a sea of suspicion and then catapults a further barrage of brain twisters. If Thomas’ wife (Kirsty Torhaug) knows so little about his life before they met and his current business dealings how certain are we that he’s not reaping the rewards of his past behaviour?

Far more than just a European clone of The Fugitive, Exit is a white knuckle descent into a debased and perverted business environment. Even white knight Fabian von Klerking, played by True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgård, moral compass is eroded when he’s forced to deal with the very man who broke his father. By resisting temptation and remaining true to his beliefs Fabian sets off on a path that will lead to him being infected with the stench of malfeasance.

When casting Mikkelson to play Le Chiffre in Casino Royale the producers must have had access to an early cut of Exit, two sequences are lifted wholesale and recreated within the Bond movie.

Bewitching, sensational, and blood-tingling, Exit is an ingenious suspense-filled movie overflowing with tension.

Exit 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.