DVD Review: Seaside Hotel – Season One (Badehotellet)

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A period drama starring The Killing‘s Bjarne Henriksen has become an unexpected hit, proving that Danish TV has more to offer than a continuous stream of crime shows.

Series creators Hanna Lundblad and Stig Thorsboe worked on Krøniken (Better Times), a mid-noughties programme that focused on two families alongside the development of Danish broadcasting up until the 1970s. Keen to work on another historical based show they drew inspiration from the UK drama Upstairs Downstairs. The pair decided to use the setting of a beach hotel after reading a newspaper article about coastal resorts during the interwar period.

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Planned to run for five seasons, Seaside Hotel is a Downtown Abbey style show that mixes romance, tragedy and comedy as it follows the lives of the affluent and serving classes from 1928 through to 1932. From the giddy heights of the Jazz Age to the depths of the Great Depression, the personal lives of staff and tourists are transformed by events far beyond Denmark’s borders.

During the Summer of 1928, Europe was still healing after the trauma of World War 1. Within a year the world would face a financial crisis that paved the way for a second global conflict. In the first season, a group of holidaymakers descend on a northern coastal resort seemingly intoxicated by misguided beliefs in a future free of conflict. Oblivious to the forces that would soon change their lives the wealthy patrons of this resort celebrate their holidays with reckless abandon.

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Deliberately paralleling the current economic crisis with events from eighty-nine years ago the screenwriters are discretely commentating on the profligacy and inequalities that brought misery to millions and allowed extremist beliefs to flourish.

Meticulous in attention to detail, costume and set designers have taken great care in recreating the golden age of seaside hotels. Unable to find an existing hotel which would be available for many months of filming the producers constructed a detailed exterior set in a field. With the addition of some sand dunes and computer generated imagery, a highly effective illusion was created convincing viewers that they had been transported to a real seaside hotel.

A significant gamble by its broadcast network, DR. Seaside Hotel represents an attempt to broaden the range of home grown series and demonstrate that Denmark has more to offer than Nordic Noir.

Seen by 57 percent of the Danish TV audience, at the time of writing work has begun on the fifth and final series. Subtitled versions of the first two seasons are available on DVD.

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Each series focuses on the characters’ lives in a specific year. Tonally very different from Matador, this version of Danish history mixes broad comedy with moments of intimate tragedy. Through the prism of the past, the writers provide a subtle commentary which suggests we have not learnt from the past mistakes of history.

Scrupulously researched, Seaside Hotel is a brilliantly sketched account of false optimism. This warm, witty, and moving series is worth tracking down.

Seaside Hotel – Season One is available to order from Amazon


DVD Review – Matador Kollektionen 1929-1947

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For a generation, Matador is the most fondly remembered series on Danish television. A generously budgeted period drama that followed the lives of people in the fictional town of Korsbæk between 1929 and 1947. Against a backdrop of rivalries and class conflict , the series dramatized key moments of national history that were still within living history.

Taking its name from the Danish version of the board game Monopoly, Matador was created by Lise Nørgaard. A journalist and novelist in addition to a screenwriter, she drew from her own experiences of living through The Great Depression wartime occupation to create a show loosely inspired by the British series Upstairs Downstairs. The template of a relatively self contained community adjusting to changes in society against the backdrop of turbulent historical episodes has recently been dusted down and used in Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel) with press and the public commenting on the parallels between the two series.

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Travelling salesman Mads Andersen-Skjern (Jørgen Buckhøj) arrives in Korsbæk with his son and soon sees scope to expand his business interests. A rigid social order and refusal to embrace social and economic opportunities has left the town looking like a relic from the nineteenth century. Andersen-Skjern’s plans for a new clothes shop stocking the latest lines is seen as a threat to the town’s traditions. Local banker, Hans Christian Varnæs (Holger Juul Hansen) refusal to finance the venture ignites a fued which will span decades and force friends and family members to choose sides.

Denied funds to establish a new emporium the merchant refuses to be beaten by this rejection and strengthens his resolve to secure financing for this venture.

Tradition and family loyalty are challenged by modernity alongside the threats of wider social and political changes in the wake of the Wall Street Crash and war in Europe.

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Despite only running for twenty four episodes, the series continues to resonate in contemporary Danish society. An estimated one in four Danish viewers is reported to have watched at least two repeat screenings. In 2011 the thirtieth anniversary of the series’ launch was marked by the publication of a book covering every every conceivable detail of the production history and packed with reminiscences from cast members. This was followed by an exhibition of surviving props and costumes by Film Nordisk.

Prior to the launch of a repeat in the spring of 2012 it was revealed that DVD sales were in the region of 3.6 million. Despite the success of VHS and DVD releases, forty per cent of the nation were willing to tune in and catch the seventh airing for this chronicle of key moments in recent Danish history. This rerun proved so popular the main rival station hastily rescheduled its flagship programming to avoid being annihilated in the ratings.

With each repeat Matador gains a new generation of fans who are possibly able to connect stories told by their grandparents with plot-lines or set-pieces. This tale of class conflict and modern Denmark’s birth pangs continues to provide comfort for fans of nostalgia and unites the nation with each transmission.

A subtitled DVD is available to order via Platekompaniet

DVD Review – The Bureau – Complete Season Two

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Addictive spy thriller should be your next binge-watch.

The Bureau‘s first season offered a realistic portrayal of modern day espionage far removed from the stylised version offered up by the James Bond films. Ten thrilling episodes kept viewers on the edge of their seats as French intelligence officer Malotru (Mathieu Kassovitz) tore up the rule book and endangered France’s national security. In the closing moments of the series newly promoted to deputy director of the Directorate General of External Security (DGSE) he agreed to become a double-agent for the CIA.

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More intense than the first season, The Bureau‘s return is wider in scope. At its heart, the series is a powerful study of treachery, torment, and the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics. Already in production when the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred, showrunner Éric Rochant’s screenplays address concerns about the rise of homegrown extremism and the state’s ineffectiveness in combating Isis and Al-Qaeda.

Contrasting the spectacle of fieldwork in Damascus, Istanbul, and Tehran with a complex web of paranoia in the DGSE’s headquarters, it’s an unremittingly intense drama. Immersive and utterly convincing, The Bureau occasionally plays like an anti-Homeland. Perhaps the closest television will ever get to presenting a glimpse into the fight against terror without artifice or flag waving.

The Bureau – Complete Season Two is available to order from Amazon

Beyond Words – Full Line-Up and Programme

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Institut français has announced an impressive line-up of author events and films screenings for the inaugural Beyond Words Live French Literature Festval.

2017 has been a busy year for translated fiction, with an exceptionally dense list of books coming out in English translation, and a flurry of European writers attending UK festivals. Amongst an unusually rich French contingent of books published this year, there are no less than four Goncourt prizes (Lydie Salvayre, Alexis Jenni, Mathias Enard and Laurent Binet) one Renaudot Prize (Delphine de Vigan), and three selections for major UK prizes (Maylis de Kerangal shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust prize, Mathias Enard and Alain Mabanckou longlisted for the Man Booker International 2017).

The Beyond Words Festival will be showcasing these works and other recent books with a relevance to France, through an entirely bilingual series of guest writer appearances, panel discussions, staged reading performances and film adaptations. The festival opens on Thursday 11 May

Venue: Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT – Info & bookings: www.beyondwordslitfest.co.uk

Programme – at the Institut français

Thursday 11 May 2017

David Bellos: Victor Hugo revisited

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is the most loved, most read and most adapted novel of the nineteenth century. Prizewinning biographer and translator David Bellos argues that it outshines even its most illustrious contemporaries— for War and Peace, Madame Bovary, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment were all published within a few years. His talk will bring to life the extraordinary story of how Victor Hugo managed to write his epic work despite a revolution, a coup d’état and political exile; how he pulled off an astonishing deal to get it published, and set it on course to become the novel that epitomizes the grand sweep of history in the nineteenth century. This biography of a masterpiece insists that the moral and social message of Hugo’s novel, its plea for a new sense of justice, is just as important for our century as it was for its own.

5.30pm -6.30pm – £10, conc. £8
In English

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

“Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me”. The festival opens with an exceptional staged reading of a book which took the French literary scene by storm. Translated into twenty languages and now into English by Harvill Secker, Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy (translated by Michael Lucey) tells the life of a young gay boy growing up in a French town crushed by misery, alcoholism, racism and homophobia. Giving a voice to the voiceless, it is a painful and vibrant story of escape and revolt. How to reinvent what has been forced upon us? How to get the better of a life not chosen? Adapted to the stage by French director Richard Brunel, director of the Comédie de Valence National Theatre, with Henry Pettigrew in the title role, and actors newly graduated from the Manchester School of Theatre.

7pm – 8.30pm – £15, conc. £13
In English

Friday 12 May 2017

Michael Rosen: The Disappearance of Emile Zola

Discover the incredible story of Emile Zola’s escape to London in the aftermath of the scandalous Dreyfus Affair. Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate and author of more than 140 books enjoyed by children and adults alike, offers an intriguing and personal insight into the mind, the love, and the politics of Zola in a book published this year by Faber & Faber. He will take you behind the scenes of the famous “J’accuse” that forced Zola to leave Paris in disgrace.

6pm – 7pm – £10, conc. £8

French Poetry Live

Poems are to be shared, embodied, whispered and spoken out loud, and our poetry libraries are full of fragments of wisdom and beauty waiting to be re-read. Come and bring to life an exciting selection of French poetry from the National Poetry Library’s collection, by Baudelaire, Cendrars, Apollinaire, Vénus Khoury-Ghata and more. A collective performance led by Erica Jarnes – no preparation necessary, just bring your voice and ears.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc. £8

In English and French

Alexis Jenni and Hisham Matar: Rewriting History

To celebrate the UK launch of The French Art of War (Atlantic Books) and the French publication of The Return (Penguin/Gallimard), we welcome Goncourt prize winner Alexis Jenni and PEN America 2017 laureate Hisham Matar. Jenni’s novel spans essential decades of recent French history, from the aftermath of the Second World War in the 1950s, to the decolonisation and Algerian war of the 1970s. Meanwhile, Matar tells his illuminating journey to find his father, kidnapped and handed over to the Libyan regime in 1990, and retraces his steps to rediscover his country after years of exile. Both authors will be joined by their translators, French writer Agnès Desarthe and Frank Wynne, for a discussion on writing, generations, history and violence.

7.30pm – 9.00pm – £10, conc. £8

Corniche Kennedy
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Dominique Cabrera

Adapted from a novel by Maylis de Kerangal, Corniche Kennedy follows a group of adolescents from the working class neighbourhoods of Marseille who defy the laws of gravity in this ode to youthful sincerity and blue summers by the Mediterranean sea. Maylis de Kerangal has just been shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust prize for Mend the Living (MacLehose Press). Followed by a Q&A with director Dominique Cabrera.

8.40pm – 10.30pm – £12, conc. £10
In French with English subtitles

Saturday 13 May 2017

Truth and Fiction

For this special festival edition of our Café Philo, come and discuss the question of truth and fiction. In times of PostTruth and alternative realities, what do we hope for when we read fictional stories? To what extent do fragments of reality impact the imaginary quality of the narrative? What narratives and fictions seem most relevant to today’s concerns?

10.30am – 12pm – £2
In English

Emmanuelle Pagano and Ananda Devi

Join Emmanuelle Pagano, Ananda Devi and the brand new Librairie Caravanserail for an afternoon of readings and more. In Trysting (And Other Stories), Emmanuelle Pagano presents a myriad of minutely choreographed vignettes on love and desire. Ananda Devi sets Eve out of her Ruins (Les Fugitives) in her native island Mauritius, telling the loss of innocence of four teenagers against the backdrop of postcolonial fin-de-siècle. Pagano and Devi will talk about their work and the influences of other voices and art forms. The talk will be followed by a festive moment to celebrate the launch of Caravanserail.

3pm – 4pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

A Woman’s Life
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Stéphane Brizé

In this compelling adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s A Woman’s Life, Jeanne, a young noblewoman, copes with the loss of her ideals as she sets out on the path of adulthood and gradually experiences the harsh realities of a woman’s life in the nineteenth century.

4pm – 6pm – £12, conc. £10

In French with English subtitles

Mathias Malzieu: Diary of a Vampire in Pyjamas

“To have had my life saved has been the most extraordinary adventure I have ever had” says Mathias Malzieu. Best known as the lead singer of the French band Dionysos, Mathias is now also an acclaimed writer. He will join us – possibly with some music – on the occasion of the UK launch of his latest book, Diary of a Vampire in Pyjamas by Quercus. Insightful, tragic and funny, it is the memoir of one who lives to tell the tale of his close encounter with death, and of his addictive wonder at the triumph of the human spirit.

5pm – 6pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

Man Booker International Readings

Mathias Enard’s nocturnal and musical Goncourt-winning novel Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Charlotte Mandel) spans the restless night of an insomniac musicologist drifting between dreams and memories of the Middle East, of Aleppo, Damascus and Tehran, as well as of various writers, artists, musicians and orientalists. Meanwhile, Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses (Serpent’s Tail, translated by Helen Stevenson), a larger than life comic tale set in 1970s Congo, shows the struggle of a young man obsessed with helping the helpless in an unjust world. Storytellers Alia Alzougbi and David Mildon, accompanied by oud player Rihab Azar, invite you to celebrate these two novels, both longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc.£8
In English and French Related

Sunday 14 May 2017

Sophie’s Misfortunes
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Christophe Honoré

Christophe Honoré’s recent adaptation of the Comtesse de Ségur’s classic collection of stories about mischievous little Sophie will delight kids and young at heart. Far from being a model little girl, she’s constantly up to no good, cutting her mother’s fish into tiny pieces, making chalk tea or torturing her wax doll.

11am – 1pm – £5
In French with English subtitles

Hiroshima mon Amour
Film FRA | 1959 | dir. Alain Resnais

One of the most influential films of all time, Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour features Marguerite Duras’s clear, minimalist and haunting prose and revealed Emmanuelle Riva to the world as a French actress who engages in a brief, intense affair with a Japanese architect in postwar Hiroshima.

2pm – 4pm – £9, conc. £7
In French with English subtitles

Lydie Salvayre: Cry, Mother Spain

Goncourt Prize-winning Cry, Mother Spain takes us to the heart of the Spanish Civil War, as seen through the delicate transcription of a politically, emotionally and linguistically charged conversation between mother and daughter. Montse is fifteen as Franco’s forces begin their murderous purges and cities across Spain rise up against the old order. Those troubled times, both the happiest and most miserable years of Montse’s life, are set against darker extracts taken from the contemporary account Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune by Georges Bernanos. Lydie Salvayre will be in conversation with her translator Ben Faccini.

4pm – 5pm – £10, conc. £8

Delphine de Vigan: Based on a True Story

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan is a prize-winning, sophisticated and chilling novel of suspense which continually blurs the line between fact and fiction. Just published by Bloomsbury in a translation by George Miller, this unputdownable book takes the reader into a nightmarish story of master manipulation. Rarely seen in London, Delphine de Vigan will tell us more about the boundaries between reality and fantasy, friendship and fascination, and a little too about her previous bestselling books No and Me and Nothing Holds back the Night.

5.30pm – 6.30pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Laurent Binet: The Seventh Function of Language

February 1980. Roland Barthes is knocked down in a Paris street by a laundry van. History tells us it was an accident. But what if it were an assassination? What if Barthes was carrying a document of global importance? A document explaining the seventh function of language – which gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything. Who can you trust when the idea of truth itself is at stake? Laurent Binet, author of the bestselling HHhH and winner of the Goncourt first novel prize, will be presenting this brilliantly erudite comedy, published by Harvill Secker, in discussion with British author and journalist Alex Preston.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc. £8

In English and French

Programme – at the British Library and Dulwich Books

Dulwich Books: France Country of the Month

A discussion with Alexis Jenni, Emmanuelle Pagano, Mathias Malzieu and Ananda Devi led by British author, historian and French literary critic Graham Robb. Dulwich Books, shortlisted for the British Book Awards 2017 Independent Bookshop of the Year, celebrates France as their country of the Month this May.

Sunday 14 May
3 – 5pm – £5
Venue: Dulwich Books Bookshop
6 Croxted Road, West Dulwich
London SE21 8SW
www.dulwichbooks.co.uk

Le Grand Tour: The Best of Contemporary French Fiction

Join the crème de la crème of French authors, Alexis Jenni, Lydie Salvayre and Delphine de Vigan at the British Library, where they will showcase their newly translated works through readings and short performances.

Monday 15 May
7 – 8.30pm – £12, conc. £8

Venue: British Library Knowledge Centre Theatre
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
www.bl.uk

DVD Review: Follow The Money – The Complete Season Two

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Second season of the corporate drama proves that even Nordic Noir can have an off moment.

As the closing credits rolled on Follow the Money‘s first season it seemed that the story had reached its natural conclusion. Energreen’s CEO Alexander Sødergren may have been able to evade the forces of law and order in his Brazilian hideout but was unable to avoid the wrath of the firm’s chairman, Knud Christensen.

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Picking up events 18 months after Sødergren’s assassination, Follow the Money’s second season stumbles at the starting block and never recovers. The first series managed to finds its unsteady feet after an opening episode which committed the cardinal sin of hitting the viewer with too much exposition. Problems already evident in the first season are magnified in this second outing. Never recovering from an implausible opening episode which sets up a succession of improbable alliances this sophomore outing is a surprising misfire from DR’s drama department.

A brave but ultimately doomed attempt to fuse the visceral thrills of a crime series with an exploration of corporate malfeasance. Follow the Money is occasionally thrilling but mostly infuriating.

Lacking the depth of shows from Nordic Noir’s golden period, it’s a bland attempt to rehash the limited successes of a failed format. A tolerance for clumsy dialogue and an unhealthy suspension of disbelief are required to sit through Follow the Money.

Follow The Money – The Complete Season Two is available to order from Amazon

 

DVD Review: Follow The Money – The Complete Season One

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Nordic drama exposes corporate corruption.

Is greed good? Gordon Gekko’s infamous speech in the 1987 movie Wall Street made a case for the pursuit of corporate self-interest. After the devastating effects of the global economic crash corporate raiders pursuing fast profits were seen as sharp-suited vultures who had wrecked lives and saddled future generations with insurmountable debt. Taking the financial services industry to task, Follow the Money looks at the drive to green-light renewable energy projects and dares to investigate the legitimacy of its funding.

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Inspired by The Wire, Follow the Money is a flawed exploration of fraud and its consequences. Ambitious in scope, the series endeavours to offers a sprawling, intelligent, and shocking expose of crooked deals and cold-hearted morality but is occasionally crushed by a lack of focus. Attempting to prove that something is rotten in the state of Denmark Follow the Money‘s novelistic approach occasionally misfires. A brave experiment? Sign that Nordic drama is in transition? Signal that the well is starting to run dry? Far removed from the creative heights of The Bridge or The Killing, the series is a predictable schedule-filler.

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With a continent still reeling from the aftershocks of the 2008 crash a drama exposing the practices which brought the world to its knees should have been a recipe for riveting television. Starting with the death of a windshore turbine engineer Follow the Money‘s opening episode is a spectacular misfire. Teetering on the tightrope to failure it tosses in familiar, all-too-familiar, elements of more accomplished Nordic Noir series before loading the opening episode with too many characters and far too much plot. While later episodes settle into a more relaxed pattern it may be too late for viewers that have already pressed eject on their remote and decided to watch something else.

Follow The Money – The Complete Season One is available to order from Amazon

Quais du Polar by Lilja Sigurdardottir

Icelandic author Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s writes for Stirling University’s Nordic Noir group about her experiences attending a French crime fiction festival.

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Quais du Polar is France´s biggest festival of crime fiction, attracting tens of thousands of readers every year. The festival is different from many others in the sense that it is a book-selling event on a large scale, and the panels and on-stage interviews with the authors are just the icing on the cake.   The main place is the market on the ground floor at the Palace de Commerce, where all major bookstores in Lyon have their own space, dividing between them the 100 authors that are invited to the festival. Luckily I don´t read French because if I did I’d have had to fit a whole palace’s worth of crime fiction books into my luggage back to Iceland!

It was a great honour for me to be invited to the Quais du Polar Festival. My book Snare was just out in French translation (Piégée) the week…

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