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

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Svartir Englar (Black Angels)

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Despite being widely read in Scandinavian countries and also having a loyal following in Germany and the Netherlands, the literary output of Ævar Orn Josepsson is relatively unknown to the English speaking world. At present no English language translations of his work are currently available to buy from Amazon although the author’s commercial success and place within the literary Nordic Noir canon is referenced in Barry Forshaw’s fascinating text Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction. Similarly, whilst an active fan community exists in the UK for Nordic televisual output the knowledge of Icelandic content is currently not widespread amongst the fanbase. However, the recent announcement that Howard Gordon and Alex Cary, producers of Homeland, are developing a remake of Icelandic series Réttur for the NBC network might conceivably facilitate this active audience to seek out other examples of drama programming from the same country and it to be hoped that Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir imprint leases some of the many excellent and scandalously overlooked titles for DVD and Blu-ray release in the UK and Ireland.

Suitably convinced that Josepsson’s work was sufficiently well known within an Icelandic context state broadcaster Ríkisútvarpið RUV commissioned Sagafilm to produce a six part series entitled Svartir Englar that aired in the autumn of 2008 to viewing figures which are still listed as amongst the highest ever recorded for original programming.

The series is a profoundly cynical police procedural drama set in contemporary Reykjavik. Over six episodes and two primary narrative arcs the viewer is introduced to a team of four detectives and this approach enables the writers to present conflicting approaches to police methodology, changes to Icelandic society as a consequence of globalization and the internationalization of criminal activity as by-product of markets transcending geographical boundaries. The contrasting and complementing narrative arcs address a perceived erosion in Icelandic cultural certainties, From the domestic sphere to the political arena, moral certitude is presented as being either weak or non existent.

Images of contemporary social realism open the series and ground the central thesis that Icelandic society is increasingly becoming fractured, possibly even dysfunctional. A body falling from an apartment block in an apparent suicide is the event which which triggers the narrative’s initial investigation. Whilst conducting background checks into the deceased individual’s private and professional past the detectives uncover evidence to suspect that the cause of death may not have been suicide. A deeply disturbing narrative unfolds which encompasses money laundering and paedophilia whilst employing the four distinct styles of policing represented within the series to compare and contrast the ethical and investigative modes of practice employed by each of the protagonists.

An accidentally discarded earring links the two narrative arcs and whilst the second is tonally very different, at least initially, it builds to an equally dark premise; Iceland’s political and judicial system has been corrupted by external forces that will stop at nothing to cover its tracks.

This series has much to recommend, some very tight direction and an outstanding stunt in the opening episode. Well worth tracking down.

The authors of this adaptation are Sigurjón Kjartansson (Pressa) and Oskar Jonasson (Pressa, Reykjavik – Rotterdam). Jonasson is also the show’s director.

A DVD containing English subtitles is available to buy from:  http://nammi.is/svartir-englar-p-1048.html

Irish Bacon

Irish Bacon

This fascinating article from the Irish Times discusses the production model employed in Danish television, assess the differences with the Irish system and evaluates the extent to which it might be possible for Ireland to achieve similar levels of international success with its televisual output. 

Irish Bacon

This fascinating article from the Irish Times discusses the production model employed in Danish television, assess the differences with the Irish system and evaluates the extent to which it might be possible for Ireland to achieve similar levels of international success with its televisual output.

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.

 

Pressa (The Press) – Season 2

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Impressed with the viewing figures for the first series of Sagafilms’ Pressa, Icelandic commercial broadcaster Stöð 2 swiftly commissioned a second season which premièred in 2010 to the highest audience recorded in the country for an original drama production. More recently, the show won in the category of Best Scripted TV Series at the Icelandic Film and TV Awards.

Once again the showrunners are Óskar Jónasson (Reykjavík-Rotterdam)and Sigurjon Kjartansson. (Svartir Englar). Additional scripts are provided by J. Ævar Grímsson whose other writing credits include; Astrópía, Næturvaktin, Skaup, Dagvaktin, Fangavaktin, Bjarnfreðarson, and Heimsendir.

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The second season of Pressa takes place amidst the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis which led to the collapse of several Icelandic banks, a loss of market confidence amongst international investors, and an internal existential angst as the country attempted to deal with the political, economic, and social ramifications of living under the burden of such a monumental amount of debt.

Structurally, the series conforms to the template established by its predecessor; a primary narrative arc (or investigation) with several sub-plots which though initially appearing to be self contained, and unrelated, impact upon the eradication of disequilibrium and establishment of a new equilibrium in the final episode. In this second season, as I shall attempt to demonstrate throughout this post, the establishment, maintenance and resolution of all narrative and character arcs is executed with greater precision consequently leading to a more emotionally fulfilling viewing experience. Central to this more effective and sophisticated season is a subtext woven throughout which continuously questions the extent to which commercial imperatives impede/influence editorial decisions and journalistic practices.

Within the opening minutes of the first episode we soon realize that some time has passed since the closing moments of season one. The protagonist, Lara (Sara Dogg Asgerisdottir), is married and absent from work on paid maternity leave. With two children to feed and an unemployed husband Lara is now the sole bread winner. Feminine versus masculine power as a narrative motif is introduced in a sequence where Lara debates with her husband the possibility of moving to Canada thus enabling him to become sole earner or remaining in Iceland with the existing status quo, a female as the head of the family.

In each episode the consequences of accepting or rejecting a male authority figure are depicted in dramatically successful terms. Husband, employer and antagonist are examples of male figures within the Pressa narrative which to varying degrees seek to suppress, banish or mutilate the feminine as a construct. For instance, Lara’s editor, and employer, refuses to offer the newspaper’s financial support in the wake of a libel case due to the inconvenience, both financial and logistical, he thinks that the newspaper has had to suffer due to her already being on maternity leave.

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As financial pressures impact upon the personal sphere Lara obtains employment, in a freelance capacity, from one of the architects of Iceland’s downfall. The deft positioning of oppositional forces is one of this seasons many strengths. The initial premise is that Lara is hired to work for an oil baron accused of sexual assault and murder. The sanctity of the feminine is continually stressed , and under threat, in scenes featuring Lara and her new employer.

Through encounters with those who know or claim to have directly or indirectly members suffered at the hand of the antagonist Lara is torn between her professional duty of establishing his innocence and a personal quest to ascertain any possible guilt. The feminine must consider if the need to alleviate financial burdens is greater than than association with a force who may have mutilated and a murdered other females.

A secondary narrative strand is introduced via a journalistic exposure of a biker gang known for selling narcotics. This initially self contained sub-plot introduces an additional form of jeopardy, explores the extent to which journalists are responsible for the protection of their sources, and establishes the possibility that those in the business of news gathering may have to put their lives at risk in the process of writing a story.

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Of the two seasons the second is undoubtedly the superior and its acknowledgement by the Icelandic Film and TV Awards is testament to some superb acting, writing and direction. Over six incredibly well written episodes the show manages to debate the financial crisis, media ownership, and gender politics. Also, Bjarne Henriksen (Forbrydelsen and Borgen) gives a terrifying performance as a foreign criminal in three episodes.

The series ends with a cliffhanger that will literally send shivvers down your spine.

A DVD with English subtitles is available to order from Nammi.is

 

Pressa (The Press) – Season 1

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Several days ago UCL’s Department of Scandinavian Studies was contacted by a journalist from the Danish newspaper Politiken who was writing an article about a possible fascination with Nordic culture amongst a sector of the British population. As Dr Clare Thomson’s blog post demonstrates the journalistic discourse was predicated upon the notion that we as consumers may be unwitting cultural dupes responding to a top down Zeitgeist imposed upon us by media organizations and corporate interests. As I posted on the site, any attempt to classify our consumption in relation to the Zeitgeist is deeply problematic due to it presupposing that a singular mode of pleasure when what may be the case is that a variety of audiences may be consuming these texts for differing reasons. In trying to ascertain why sectors of the English speaking audience have become receptive to Nordic literary, televisual and filmic texts within a historically specific context Dr Thomson’s blog entry highlights a very important point which warrants future research using a variety of Cultural Studies methodological approaches. Modes of appreciation and activity concerning Nordic Noir texts is a relatively under explored field and the agenda and research methods applied within an academic context differ significantly to those utilised by the popular press. Referring to the research methods employed in journalistic practice enables me to make a rather clumsy segue to a discussion of the Icelandic televisual text Pressa.

In comparison with the UK, Iceland was relatively late in embarking upon a national televisual service. 1966 marked the year that the country gained its first dedicated state owned broadcaster and in 1986 the a privately owned competitor Stöð 2 began broadcasting to the nation. A cursory glance at the schedules for Stöð 2 reveal a mixture of imported English language programming alongside domestically produced content. The ratio of domestic sourced content in relation to imported texts is not something I have been able to identify and an analysis over a sustained period of time would be preferable to ascertain the extent to which a drama series such as Pressa is representative of the Stöð 2’s commitment to drama.

Premièring on 30 December 2007, Pressa is a series produced by Sagafilm which is set in the newsdesk of national tabloid. To date three seasons have been produced with the last airing in 2011. The primary story arc of each season focuses on journalistic research and reporting of a specific incident of criminal activity. Additionally several sub plots run through each season, some of which are self contained whilst others ultimately feed into the resolution of the primary arc. For this blog entry I shall only refer to the first season but will discuss the other two at a future date.

The series is directed by Óskar Jónasson who may be better known to readers for the 2008 filmic text Reykjavík-Rotterdam. Interestingly, the series employs the show runner system of script development and in addition to his role as director Jonnasson serves as co-lead writer alongside Sigurjon Kjartansson.

The Leveson Inquiry has brought journalistic ethics into mainstream social discourse and consequently I was intrigued at the possibility of viewing a televisual text which debated within a dramatic framework the validity and viability of press activity at personal and governmental levels. Although Pressa is an ensemble series the majority of the narrative action concerns that of newly appointed journalist Lara (played by SaraDogg Asgerisdottir) who gains employment with the paper on the basis of a recommendation from a friend and is armed with a spec story which leads to a cabinet minister’s resignation. During her initial interview the paper’s editor spells out the professional code of conduct and the series’ modus operandi: “To become a terrific journalist on The Post you have to become awful in everything else. We aren’t here to make friends.”

Familial relations have been a generic trope in the Nodic Noir texts I have previously encountered. The emotional sacrifices made by the protagonist as a consequence of professional decisions has been a sub-plot in Forbrydelsen and season two of Borgen. In Pressa the protagonist is a single mother who is endeavouring to forge a new career whilst raising a daughter with minimal assistance from her former partner who is a university lecturer that seems to prioritize attending faculty functions and seducing students over that of his child’s welfare.

The primary narrative strand concerns a possible murder and subsequent concealment of the body. The series’ opening sequence invites the viewer to conclude that a homicide has taken place. After some brief time-lapsed shots of Iceland’s windswept volcanic landscape we see a car parked on a deserted road. After cutting to a shot of the windscreen we hear the sound of gunshot and see a splashes of blood coat the glass.

The exposition laden opening instalment is the weakest of the six and it requires the viewer to suspend her/his disbelief on several occasions to the point of shattering any semblance of credulity. In the interests of fairness I will add that the series improves greatly as it progresses and whilst I found much to enjoy it took me two attempts to overcome initial displeasure with the opening episode to continue viewing the series. Subsequent instalments are better structured in terms of dramatic pacing, emotional involvement with the characters and are richer with regards analysing the extent to which the press may be justified in pursuing a story.

I was initial perplexed and frankly infuriated that the text’s authors expected the viewer to accept that a thirty-something without a degree, no journalistic training or relevant career experience would be able to be employed in a front line position by Iceland’s top selling red top newspaper. Having previously worked for a regional newspaper I managed a wry smile upon noticing the incredibly small amount of staff employed by this paper. One episode has a sub-plot of the journalistic staff having to take photographs due to the paper’s sole photographer being unable to work that day.

The paper does not seem to engage in any form of fact checking. Once the identity of the deceased is revealed to the media it is Lara who identifies him from an article she had previously read in a lifestyle magazine. The murder victim is a mechanic named Mani who just happens to be married to Iceland’s most popular television presenter and prominent local politician, Esther.

Another example of clunky storytelling all too evident in the pilot episode is a sequence in which the grieving widow willingly poses for a series of photographs which would be better placed being published in an issue of Heat or OK Magazine than the lead story of a newspaper seeking to bring a killer to justice.

The remainder of the series is tonally very different. Many of the faults which spoiled my viewing pleasure of the pilot are either eradicated or marginalized to the point where they no longer matter. Particularly interesting is a sub-plot which debates the extent to which the media may be justified (or not) in the identifying of paedophiles living in the community.

Although I may have been pretty damning about the series’ opener I was gripped by the subsequent five episodes and am looking forward to viewing the other two seasons.

A DVD with English subtitles is available to buy from http://shopicelandic.com/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&category_id=48&flypage=flypage.tpl&lang=en&manufacturer_id=47&page=shop.product_details&product_id=1501&Itemid=104&vmcchk=1&Itemid=104

Dr Clare Thomson’s blog post concerning Nordic Noir and the Zeitgeist can be read at:

http://scancrime.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/help-please-nordic-culture-and-the-british-zeitgeist/

Re-make, Re-model

Re-make, Re-model

Broadcasters in both the UK and U.S.A have a long history of leasing the format to foreign programming and transmitting the English language remake instead of the original televisual text. In some cases this has been relatively successful in terms of domestic viewing figures and sales of DVD boxsets but the process of tailoring a foreign text for a new audience is not an exact science and for every La Femme Nikita the televisual audience is subjected to several misguided attempts at redrafting content. Yes, The Killing US I’m looking at you. Two remakes of The Bridge are currently being prepared but with regards the UK version I can’t comprehend why a broadcaster would consider that it could deliver higher ratings than the original. The BBC4 foreign language slot has consistently delivered ratings and audience appreciation figures which outstrip those of many high profile American series so the commissioning of an alternative English language iteration by a competing satellite and cable broadcaster has the potential to invite unfair comparisons by viewers familiar with the original text. I could be wrong and the results may turn out to be splendid.

Re-make, Re-model

Broadcasters in both the UK and U.S.A have a long history of leasing the format to foreign programming and transmitting the English language remake instead of the original televisual text. In some cases this has been relatively successful in terms of domestic viewing figures and sales of DVD boxsets but the process of tailoring a foreign text for a new audience is not an exact science and for every La Femme Nikita the televisual audience is subjected to several misguided attempts at redrafting content. Yes, The Killing US I’m looking at you. Two remakes of The Bridge are currently being prepared but with regards the UK version I can’t comprehend why a broadcaster would consider that it could deliver higher ratings than the original. The BBC4 foreign language slot has consistently delivered ratings and audience appreciation figures which outstrip those of many high profile American series so the commissioning of an alternative English language iteration by a competing satellite and cable broadcaster has the potential to invite unfair comparisons by viewers familiar with the original text. I could be wrong and the results may turn out to be splendid.