Film Review: A Man Called Ove

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The Highs and Lows of Swedish Life: Heartwarming tale of friendships healing powers.

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Hannes Holm’s adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel is guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes. One of Sweden’s most successful films, A Man Called Ove is the nation’s entry for the Oscars. It is a touching story of a grumpy old man who is unable to come to terms with grief.

Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is made redundant after 43 years service at the local rail network. The loss of a job so soon after his wife’s death pushes Ove to the brink. Determined to rejoin his wife he decides to end his life.

An intricate study of grief and resentment, the film is perhaps the closest Sweden has come to producing a home-grown equivalent of It’s A Wonderful Life. Director Hannes Holm’s tragi-comedic exploration of loss and acceptance is a celebration of the power of friendship.

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A tightly constructed script uses flashback sequences to let the audience see the tragic events that turned Ove into a curmudgeonly old man at war with the world. Unashamedly sentimental, the film is underscored by a strain of morbid Scandinavian humour. Poignant and moving, it shows how Sweden has changed over the last half century and makes a positive contribution to the ongoing debate about immigration.

Rolf Lassgård delivers a career-defining performance as the crotchety senior citizen who is tired of life. The film gives him an opportunity to flex his comedic muscles while displaying an intense sensitivity beneath, In lesser hands Ove might have come across as mawkish or a grotesque parody. Lassgård’s complex and layered performance grabs from the opening frame. He will have you laughing and crying throughout the film.

Bahar Pars rises to the challenge of playing opposite Lassgård. As pushy neighbour Parvenah she is effectively playing Clarence to Ove’s George Bailey. She creates a three-dimensional character which never descends into stereotype.

Possibly the most emotional cinema-going experience you will have this year. Take plenty of tissues.

A Man Called Ove is screening at the Nordic-Baltic Film Festival.

DVD Review: Easy Money

After several years spent working as a criminal defence lawyer Jens Lapidus penned the first volume in the Stockholm Noir trilogy. Instantly successful, the novel would end up being the fourth best selling book in Sweden during 2007. Drawing from observations gained during his career in the legal profession Lapidus moved away the school of Scandinavian crime fiction pioneered by Sjöwall and Wahlöö which focused on the investigator within a narrative that critiqued capitalist society. Concentrating on the criminal’s perspective whilst commentating on aspirational society the author steadfastly refused to demonise lawbreakers, delving deep into their backgrounds to show them as fully fleshed individuals with hopes and dreams they are revealed to be unwitting victims of an economic infrastructure that fetishizes profit .

Instantly captivated by the book’s authenticity, director Daniel Espinosa expressed an interest in adapting it but a few years would pass before a chance meeting with film producer and rights holder Fredrik Wikström allowed the project to become a reality. Hugely popular in Scandinavia the film would lead to two further sequels and an American remake is currently in pre-production.

Student JW (Joel Kinnaman – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Killing, Robocop) lives a schizophrenic life. By day he is enrolled on a business course but at night he parties with the high flying elite in exclusive bars and restaurants. Clearly living beyond his meagre means, a part time job as an occasional mini cab driver is JW’s only source of income. Enraptured by the lure of wealth and attracted to a glamorous heiress he is offered a way to finance his lifestyle by a local gang. Working alongside recently escaped convict Jorge ( Matias Varela – Arne Dahl) JW arranges a one one-off cocaine deal fully intended to use the proceeds to finance a new life but the local mafia has other ideas…

A violent thriller, it interweaves and JW and Jorge’s backgrounds before contrasting, reconciling and then once again placing their relationship in jeopardy. Despite having very little in common they are equally at risk of being discarded by the dangerous criminal fraternity which has become a surrogate family to them both. This mismatched pair may have a better chance of surviving if they betray their compatriots before being discarded and left for dead.

Combining Nordic Noir with the cynicism of the American New Wave, Easy Money creates, or recreates, an all too believable social milieu. Dripping with authenticity the film offers a view of gang culture that could only have been written by someone who deals with criminals on a daily basis.

Easy Money can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Easy-Money-DVD-Joel-Kinnaman/dp/B00E5KTH14/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1384200290&sr=1-1&keywords=easy+money

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Easy-Money-Blu-ray-Joel-Kinnaman/dp/B00E5KTLL0/ref=sr_1_4?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1384200290&sr=1-4&keywords=easy+money

A trailer can be viewed here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5x2T9vNi2o

Äkta människor (Real Humans) – Season 2 News

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The Swedish science fictions series Äkta människor has recently been broadcast in Australia and France. Audience response in both countries has been positive and eager fans are clamouring for information about the currently in production second season whilst we in the UK have yet to get confirmation on when, or indeed if, we will get to see what may quite possibly be the best Science Fiction series to air on TV within the last ten to fifteen years.

SVT has confirmed that Äkta människor will return to Swedish screens on 1 December.

Two spoiler filled  links are posted below (trailer included).

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SVT has released some tantalizing hints of what is to come in season two;

http://www.svt.se/akta-manniskor/real-humans-returns

http://www.svt.se/akta-manniskor/smygtitta-pa-andra-sasongen

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Here’s some VFX breakdowns for season one;

http://www.svtdesign.se/akta-manniskor-break-downs/

SVT have released a few examples of the visual effects from season two:

http://vimeo.com/80624186

Real Humans, saison 2 : première photo de la suite et une date pour la reprise

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Book Review: Nordic Noir by Barry Forshaw

 

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No longer a niche strand of crime fiction tucked away on a hard to find shelf deep within the backroom of your friendly neighbourhood book store or buried at the rear of a foreign films DVD section, Nordic Noir now has a much greater cultural presence. It’s profile is currently strong enough for commissioning editors to be confident that the publishing an image of a Scandinavian actor on the front cover of the Radio Times or a weekend newspaper supplement will promote whatever series is being trailed, not impact upon sales figures, and may encourage fans who otherwise may not have purchased the title to buy additional copies for archiving amongst their private collection of memorabilia. Supermarket chains, famed for their reticence to stock unprofitable brands, routinely sell Scandinavian fiction at heavily discounted prices and frequently give the books a prominent place within its fiction departments

Further evidence of the sub genre’s absorption into the mainstream was provided by a screening of the final episode of Borgen‘s second season at the Edinburgh Playhouse accompanied by a question and answer session with the lead actor. The event proved to be more popular than was initially anticipated, leading to further sessions being arranged to cater for those who wanted to attend the event but thought they might not be able to due initial plans for a single event underestimating the high number of fans that were willing to travel great distances for the experience of seeing an episode on the big screen, quizzing a member of the cast, and finally meeting those with whom they’ve celebrated and debated the series on Twitter or Facebook. This fan gathering generated a surprisingly level of coverage from media organizations. In a break from an already overloaded schedule fielding questions from enthusiasts, accepting an absolutely amazing fan made calendar, and holding a brief private audience with a prominent Scottish politician Sidse Babett Knudsen was invited by the BBC and Sky to appear on news programmes.

No doubt feeling validated that the event in Edinburgh was successful in terms of promoting the show, Nordic Noir as a brand, and its accompanying fandom Arrow Films capitalized on both the attendant media coverage and its core customer base feeling bereft after relatively recent season finales of The Killing and Borgen by releasing Above the Street, Below the Water. Using this particular title, alongside Unit One, to kick start what promises to be a thoroughly rewarding year in terms of new productions and the distribution of those shows which might otherwise have slipped under the radar is both an award to long term fans that have followed this range since its emergence a few years ago and a play upon the theme of spectatorship that is very cleverly woven into the script’s spine. Fans who have remained loyal to Nordic Noir, both as a subgenre and brand, finally have the opportunity to buy a movie which invites the viewers to draw from their stored knowledge of Scandinavian film and TV series and engage in the activity of “actor spotting”.

The discovery of archival content which had previously not been made available in the UK and its subsequent distribution has been central to the formation and maintenance of several fandoms. Autobiographical and ethnographic accounts from members of a number of musical subcultures including Northern Soul and Rockabilly have suggested that in the group’s embryonic stages the recovery, exhibition, and rehabilitation of previously unavailable items ranked equal in importance to the consumption of new material as it enabled fans to engage in critical dialogue with each other thereby assisting in the formation of group identity and facilitating participants being able to establish a provisional consensus regarding generic parameters.

Whilst Nordic Noir already existed as discrete cinematic, televisual and literary forms long before UK audiences were first exposed to Jo Nesbo, The Killing and Yellow Bird’s adaptation of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, obtaining information of the key developments within the movement has until now been compromised by insufficient data being made available to English speaking readers about titles that whilst hugely influential within a Scandinavian context have not been distributed in other territories. The publication of Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir represents the first attempt by a mainstream imprint to provide a historical and critical overview of the sub genre’s antecedents, cultural influences, political subtexts, gender representations, and possible explanations for the phenomenal sales figures which have repeatedly defied industry expectations. Subtitled The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV, this is a comprehensive work of reference that aficionados will return to repeatedly in order to enhance their knowledge of a particular book, author, film or TV show.

In the introductory section, Forshaw addresses with refreshing honesty the problematic notion of being designated as an expert in any given field, how he has acquired his knowledge and what he wants readers to do with the information in the book. As a long time editor of Crime Time and author of several non fiction titles, including a sterling biography of Steig Larsson, Forshaw has been acquainted with Scandivian fiction for several decades. The roles of media professional and fan are not mutually exclusive and throughout the text Forshaw writes as an enthusiast keen to share his discoveries in the hope that readers might feel sufficiently enticed to order some of the tiles he has recommended.

As this remarkable example of scholarship reminds us, Nordic Noir didn’t arrive on our shores as a fully formed sub generic movement. The earliest titles available to UK readers were appreciated as competently written crime novels and possibly early critical commentary may have primarily focused on the left leaning political subtext that was prevalent in those books. Scandinavian fiction, as a marketing brand, didn’t exist back then and titles were lumped in with other foreign authors but received less critical praise or sales figures that were awarded to, for instance, Georges Simenon.

Intriguingly, Forshaw’s historical overview references authors and stylistic approaches which were prevalent before Sjöwall and Wahlöö embarked on their influential ten book series.

Wherever possible the author enhances his analysis with appropriate use of interview extracts culled from his many years of researching and writing about crime fiction. This enables the reader to become better acquainted with the cited writer’s working methods, life history, and individual approaches to the movement.

With regards individual authors, Larsson, Nesbo, Sjöwall and Wahlöö are the big hitters in terms of sales and influence and whilst they are accorded the greatest scrutiny Forshaw’s encompassing and celebratory investigation references many lesser known writers.

That a free to air broadcaster would regularly devote two hours each Saturday evening for the screening of a foreign language series would once upon a time have been classed as ratings suicide and yet BBC4 has shown that imported subtitled content can be viable in terms of audience viewing figures and the appreciation index. Similarly, Arrow Films DVD range has been successful enough to warrant the licensing of several titles not currently scheduled for UK TV transmission and has also been awarded with a vibrant and critically aware online fan community. This is essentially a second wave of Nordic Noir that feeds from and back into the literary strand. Several notable films and TV series are analysed by Forshaw, including, but not exclusively, Borgen, The Killing, Wallander. An appreciation of these series is balanced with behind the scenes information some of which may surprise even the most knowledgeable of aficionados.

One thing the book does incredibly well is to draw attention to generic inflexions or cultural cues that the reader might have missed out on when they last read a specific book or watched a particular film and TV series. Armed with this new information the reader might want to go back and devour these titles all over again but with an enhanced perspective.

Closing with a section on names to watch out for over the coming months and years one can’t help but wish for this excellent text to be updated at regular intervals so as to accommodate new perspectives on the sub genre that occur following the release of each book or DVD from Arrow Films.

Nordic Noir – The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV is available to buy from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nordic-Pocket-Essentials-Barry-Forshaw/dp/1842439871/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363107338&sr=8-1

Jagarna (The Hunters)

The establishment of a consensus regarding Nordic Noir as a generic (or subgeneric) form and/or movement is something that is continuously debated both at the levels of content owners and within audience networks. Whilst the conceptual categories employed by individual audience members may, at times, differ somewhat from those utilised by commercial interests, the relatively scant knowledge concerning filmic and televisual texts has facilitated a situation in which both parties routinely trade information concerning fresh discoveries. For instance, Arrow Films’ dedicated Nordic Noir Facebook and Twitter accounts provide an online presence in which, in addition to promoting forthcoming releases, users may recommend titles for possible DVD release in the UK and Ireland whilst simultaneously providing critical commentary and maintaining community networks.

To classify Nordic Noir fandom as existing primarily in electronic form is at best a vast generalization and at worst deeply problematic. UCL’s Nordic Noir Book Club provides a physical environment for the discussion of literary texts and Arrow Films has recently announced the establishment of a film club which will screen content in advance of theatrical distribution and/or DVD release. Arrow Films venture will, when possible, incorporate question and answer sessions with creative personnel, this progressive approach emulates the convention experience enjoyed by other forms of media fandom and demonstrates that the distributor is actively seeking to engage with its core customer base. The establishment of a semi regular film club has the potential to enable fans to physically meet with other like minded individuals consequently strengthening relationships that may have previously only exited in terms of electronic communication.

Somewhat bravely, Arrow Films has elected to launch its film club by screening a sequel to a 1996 film. Jagarna 2 (False Trail) is a film directed by Kjell Sundvall and starring Rolf Lassgård (Wallander), the central premise is of the main protagonist returning to a rural community some years after the conclusion of the first film to investigate a particularly grisly murderer. I have been assured that Jagarna 2 is a relatively self contained text and a familiarity with the originating material is not a prerequisite for enjoying this latest instalment. Arrow Films marketing strategy for Jagarna 2 is directed at two distinct audiences; the causal purchaser and those whom are more inclined to seek out back catalogue items. The English language title, False Trail, evokes the investigative strand of the narrative and makes no reference whatsoever to the previous film but in e-mail correspondence to members of the film club Arrow Films cited the first film in this series possibly due to an already established familiarity with this filmic text by aficionados.

Released in the UK under the title The Hunters, Jagarna is a Swedish film about a police officer who returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral and soon becomes involved in investigating reindeer poaching. Jagarna is fundamentally a film in which dramatic tension is generated by the collision of oppositional forces/perspectives. After several years living and working in an urban environment (Stockholm) the protagonist has adopted a world view and working practices which run counter to those of the rural community. In his professional and domestic identities the protagonist is continuously reminded that urban sophistication has no place within Norrbotten.

Initially welcomed as a returning hero the protagonist is rapidly shunned by members of the community and faces increasing jeopardy as long term friends become enemies. The primary investigation seemingly relatively small scale becomes one that threatens to tear the entire community apart and expose the local police force as being institutionally corrupt.

Jagarna is a filmic text that is influenced by the Western genre. Through his dual roles as police officer and family member the protagonist is constantly seeking to tame the wilderness. In his absence the community has remained relatively unchanged and it is only through the death of his father that long standing tensions are openly expressed. Burdened by guilt due to years of exile and inaction the protagonist seeks to make amends by reinforcing law within the community and forging a stronger relationship with his brother. The all pervading stench of criminality and corruption is something the hero struggles not to be contaminated by. No matter how diligent he tries to be in his work ethic the professionalism is eroded in encounters with his brother thus setting up a moral dilemma which is present throughout the film.

For those who are going to see Jagarna 2 (False Trail) the original film is worth tracking down. A DVD with English subtitles is available from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009ZXOJAK/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_vjOOqb1QZ345D

Jagarna 2 (False Trail) will be released theatrically on 16 November:  http://www.falsetrailfilm.co.uk/index.html

Film Review: Nobel’s Last Will (Nobels testamante)

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Since 2003 Swedish production company Yellow Bird has consistently constructed high end crime dramas for both the cinema screen and televisual transmission. To viewers from the UK the company is best known for the Millennium trilogy, Headhunters, Wallander (English language and Swedish versions). It’s most recent foray into filmic texts, Nobels testamente, represents an interesting transformation with regards the distribution of content which I will discuss in greater detail at various points throughout this blog entry.

Nobels testamante is an adaptation of a literary text by Liza Marklund. An English language version of the text, entitled Last Will, is to be published by Transworld Publishers on 27 September. The literary text is the sixth in a series of Nodic Noir novels featuring the journalist Annika Bengtzon. The rights to translate the Bengzton literary texts into feature films was previously held by Svensk Filmindustri and under the terms of the agreement they produced two movies directed by Colin Nutley and starring Anna Fredriksson; Sprängaren (2001), and Paradiset (2003).

As the current right holders ,Yellow Bird, and its co-producers, have embarked upon the ambitious project of simultaneously adapting six of the eight Annika Bengtzon novels and releasing them throughout 2012. Nobels testamente is the the first in this filmic franchise and it was released theatrically in Sweden on 2 March 2012. Additionally, the film has been released in several other territories including New Zealand and Australia but to date no UK screenings have been announced. Subsequent films in the franchise have been released direct to DVD and the viability of using a theatrical release to trail further instalments which are sold directly to the consumer is relatively untested, at least in the UK marketplace, consequently this development warrants further investigation.

Whilst Nobels testamante has been selected to launch the filmic franchise, the literary source material is the sixth in a series of eight texts and the extent to which this has necessitated substantial modifications to the protagonist’s character arc is something which requires consumption of all six filmic texts to determine and therefore, for now, I will focus solely on Nobels testamente analysing it’s effectiveness at persuading consumers to consider investing time and money in seeking out successive instalments.

The heroine, Annika Bengtzon (Malin Crépin), is a journalist who works for the Swedish newspaper Kvällspressen. Her primary assignment of covering the annual Nobel prize giving ceremony is modified somewhat after she witnesses the assassination of the recipient. The mutually exclusive roles of witness in a police investigation and lead journalist for a best selling tabloid create narrative tension as Annika is prohibited by a point of law from doing her job. The male imposed, and enforced, restriction of Annika’s professional practices initiates her attempts to subvert and ignore any obstacles establishes the character’s world view, personal arc, and frames similarities/differences with the primary antagonist.

Thematically, this is a film about the protagonist’s unwillingness to accept or be dominated by what she perceives as the inefficiency of male dominated society. In professional and private spheres she repeatedly demonstrates that the strictures which require her to conform to a particular mode of behaviour are inherently misguided. How she asserts her right to perform on her own terms propels the investigative aspect of the narrative and also leads to some simultaneously amusing and horrifying moments, particularly when she confronts a child who has been bullying her son and rather than adopt the more passive approach favoured by her partner she proceeds to inform the bully that she will kill him should he ever again terrorise her child.

That the literary texts which sired this filmic franchise are currently being issued to a UK audience might be part of a strategy to introduce the brand via print before issuing the films on DVD. On the basis of this first film I would not go out of my way to actively seek any of the sequels but were I familiar with the print version then perhaps my motivation would be to see all six films in order to ascertain how successfully they have been translated to the screen.