Monthly Archives: June 2012

War of the Arrows (Choi-jong-byeong-gi Hwal, South Korea 2011)

Park Hae-Il as Nam-yi

This relatively unheralded film turned out to be the biggest box office local film of the year in South Korea, beaten only by Tom Cruise and the latest Transformers film in the chart. Perhaps most surprising about its success is that a large portion of the dialogue is spoken in a virtually extinct Manchu language – so the mainstream audience in Seoul were confronted with subtitles as well as several onscreen titles explaining aspects of the history. If this makes War of the Arrows sound like a dry historical document, fear not. This is a lean and sinewy action thriller.

Outline

Korea in the Joseon period, 1623. A teenage boy and his young sister flee from Seoul after a coup d’état in which their father is killed as a loyal officer of the ousted ruler. The boy Nam-yi has been given his father’s bow and instructed to look after his sister Ja-in. They are taken in by one of their father’s friends in the mountains. Thirteen years later Ja-in decides that she can’t always live in hiding and decides to marry the son of their protector. Nam-yi doesn’t think much of this idea but is forced to accept her decision and prepares to leave. He is by now a cynical man and we get hints of his archery prowess. It looks like he will become a bitter warrior, a kind of Korean version of a ronin in a Japanese samurai film. However, on the day of his sister’s wedding when he has just left town, Manchu cavalry arrive and swiftly take possession of the area. This is the ‘Second Manchu invasion of Joseon Korea’ in 1636. Half a million Koreans are captured and marched away to Manchuria. Nam-yi is now a fugitive looking for his sister and displaying prodigious archery skills in his battles with the invaders. Eventually he will find himself up against a crack squad of Manchu mounted archers who he must overcome to rescue Nam-yi and her new husband.

Commentary

A straightforward conventional action picture, this film demonstrates the strength of Korean Cinema in terms of acting, cinematography and overall presentation. Writer-director Kim Han-min previously directed two other genre films, both described as ‘thrillers’ on IMDB.  War of the Arrows looks wonderful, the action sequences are exciting and there is a novelty (for me, at least) in the concentration on archery skills. I was very impressed by Park Hae-il as Nam-yi (having previously seen him in The Host). The actor does not resemble the usual action hero but he utilises all his skills to make the character convincing. The following excellent review on Koreanfilm.org says much more about the film from a more informed perspective. I agree with the comment that this is much more like a 1950s Hollywood Western in its focus on the characters and the hunt/chase than a conventional historical drama. I’m also interested in the comments about the choice of subject matter – the humiliating defeat of Korean forces during the Manchu invasion – and how this relates to the more typical choice of narratives that fit the ‘national popular’ categories (i.e. Korean War epics or films where the Japanese are the bad guys). The Koreanfilm.org review praises the film but criticises the ‘submission’ to the use of CGI and under current conventions of the action film. It suggests that more focus on the philosophy of the martial arts being practised in a Kurosawa Akira mode would have been a better bet. I’m not really in a position to comment on CGI but this alternative suggestion is one that I didn’t think of when watching the film, but on reflection it sounds an interesting idea.

I’d recommend this film to anyone interested in action films and East Asian Cinema more generally. Here’s the best trailer I could find (try to ignore the dreadful voiceover):

The Angels' Share (UK/Fra/Bel/Italy 2012)

The four young offenders at a whisky auction in ‘The Angels’ Share’ (l-r: William Ruane, Jasmin Riggins, Paul Brannigan and Gary Maitland)

The ‘Sixteen Films’ crew have triumphed again, winning the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and chalking up a significant box office success with The Angels’ Share. Sixteen Films as a company was formed by Ken Loach with producer Rebecca O’Brien and writer Paul Laverty to make Sweet Sixteen in 2002, but the partnership between Loach and Laverty goes back to Carla’s Song in 1996. Rebecca O’Brien missed out on that film but she was with Loach on earlier productions going back to Hidden Agenda in 1990. The West of Scotland and Scottish culture has featured in six of the groups films in all (My Name is Joe in 1998, Ae Fond Kiss in 2004 and Tickets in 2005 alongside Carla’s Song, Sweet Sixteen and the current film.) I think it’s fair to say that while the earlier films were all located in a recognisable urban Scotland and dealt with aspects of contemporary urban Scottish culture, none have ‘played’ so openly with ideas about Scottishness (without losing track of a strong central narrative).

‘The Angels’ Share’ refers to the small amount of liquid which is lost during the long process of maturation of whisky. With whisky as the centrepiece and four young working-class Glaswegians deposited in the Highlands, clad in kilts and carrying bottles of Irn-Bru, Loach and Laverty are clearly teasing us with thoughts of Whisky Galore and Trainspotting – as well as several films by Bill Forsyth including Local Hero and Comfort and Joy.  Some reviewers seem to think that comedy is something new for Loach. They’ve already forgotten Looking for Eric but, more importantly, they’ve forgotten that dramas set in believable working-class communities often feature comic characters and comic sequences. Ricky Tomlinson, later star of The Royle Family sitcom on TV, started making us laugh in Loach’s Riff-Raff (1991). In most cases, however, laughter in a Loach film co-exists with tears and pain, not least in a film like Kes (1969). And it still does in The Angels’ Share. The difference is perhaps that the obvious pain is contained within the first part of the narrative so that the second part becomes closer to a conventional ‘caper movie’ narrative – and the film’s resolution is quite different in feel to something like Kes. In fact it could almost be described as upbeat.

Outline (no spoilers)

The protagonist in The Angels’ Share is Robbie a young Glaswegian with a violent past, once more in court but this time offered a way out via 300 hours of ‘community payback’ because he is about to become a father and the birth of his child might bring him to his senses. (Robbie is played by Paul Brannigan, a very talented non-professional who obviously has great potential as an actor.) Robbie does try to change, keeping off drugs and trying to avoid fights. He makes good friends of three other young offenders on the programme and forms a bond with his supervisor (the wonderful Jon Henshaw) who is lonely and missing his own family. It is by chance that Robbie discovers that he has a natural talent, a ‘nose’ for whisky, and this will lead him into a seemingly crazy scheme to make money. But to do so, he needs the support of his three willing but not necessarily accomplished fellow miscreants.

Commentary

The film narrative is cleverly thought through and encapsulates several political observations that we might expect from Loach and Laverty. A 100 minute film perhaps does not have the length to allow the gradual development/transformation of a character like Robbie, who does seem to go from extremely violent youth spaced out on drugs to astute schemer and smooth operator rather quickly. On the other hand, because of its subject material, the film does have the possibility to engage with debates about Scottishness and representation as outlined above and this makes what is otherwise a seemingly ‘light’ comic tale into something else. In interviews, Loach and Laverty have spoken about the waste of young people’s talents and the disease of unemployment in the increasingly unequal society that is modern Tory Britain (and which the SNP in Edinburgh can only ameliorate but not radically alter). Here are young Glaswegians who have probably never tasted whisky, the national drink of Scotland, and who never visit the beautiful landscapes of their own country (from which their own families may well have been ‘cleared’ by rich landowners a hundred and fifty years or more ago). That same whisky (and the rivers and glens used for game hunting) is now valued by collectors who can pay extraordinary sums of money for something created by craft workers who don’t receive the remuneration that is their due. In this analysis, stealing the angels’ share seems a just venture if the proceeds are recycled in the Scottish economy.

One of the most important debates in Scottish film culture focuses on the representation of what is termed ‘tartanry’ – the romantic attachment of a Highland past that is commonly found in Hollywood’s celebration of Braveheart or Rob Roy. In fact, much of the mythology is a creation of romantic novelists and Victorian gentry – and it has little meaning for the Scottish working-class of the central lowlands, whose culture has been derived from mining and heavy industry. Whisky has an ambiguous position in this context – ironically, I read a magazine article on the boom in the Scottish whisky industry only a few days before seeing the film. Unfortunately a new distillery in the highlands will only create around 150 jobs – whereas the closure of factories and shipyards loses thousands. For readers outside the UK, it’s worth pointing out that Irn-Bru, bottles of which play a key role in the narrative are iconic in Scotland as the brand is claimed to be one of the few local products to match the popularity of Coke and Pepsi.

The Angels’ Share was released in the UK and Ireland by the Canadian mainstream distributor e-One. They have followed the usual practice on Loach’s films of a limited specialised cinema release starting with 73 screens. After four weeks the film is still going strong, passing $2 million. It opens this week in France and Belgium where Loach is usually guaranteed a bigger audience than in the UK. The biggest box office winner from Sixteen Films has so far been the Palme d’Or winner, The Wind That Shakes the Barley (boosted by a massive Irish box office response) but The Angels’ Share might top it.

I enjoyed the film very much but I probably need to see it again. There have been the usual silly certification problems about the way that working-class Glaswegian youths use profanities – often as words of endearment as much as hostility but fortunately the film got the ’15’ Certificate it needed. I should warn anyone who isn’t familiar with Loach-Laverty that some of the early scenes are disturbing (and emotional) before the caper elements take over but what follows will I think attract a new audience as well as satisfying existing fans. I’m intrigued as to how an American release will deal with the profanities in the subtitles which will surely happen for that market. Here is the trailer to whet your appetite (it gives away more of the plot than I have done, so be warned):

iLL Manors (UK 2012)

Kirby,  just out of prison, discovers that Marcel has attempted to take over his drugs territory and he humiliates the younger man.

iLL Manors is a film that has received a great deal of attention. I’m not sure this has been totally a good thing as the film has been both over-praised and unfairly dismissed, possibly as a result of the hype. Where audiences have been allowed to ‘find’ the film by themselves many seemed to have been impressed. I’m not sure what I think about the film, but I wish I hadn’t listened to various broadcast reviews which I’ve been unable to get out of my head. I was certainly engaged over the long running time (121 mins for a first-time, low-budget production) by aspects of the cinematography/post-production: the performances of a large cast of both professionals and non-actors impressed me as well.

The hype is because this is the first feature by the ‘platinum-selling’ London rapper Plan B (under his given name, Ben Drew). He has been quoted as saying that he was inspired by Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and Nicholas Refn and possibly by Mathieu Kassovitz’s La haine. iLL Manors has something of the structure of Pulp Fiction and both the structure and aspects of the milieu of La haine (as well as the familiar Taxi Driver mirror scene – “You talking to me?”). However, it is in some ways a grittier and more shocking representation of East London with a collection of sadder and more desperate characters than its inspirations. The ‘realism’ of the film is partly attributable to Drew’s admiration of the work of Shane Meadows and particularly This Is England. (Jo Hartley, young Shaun’s mum in This Is England, has a small role in iLL Manors.)

The story is set in East London around Forest Gate and Manor Park and involves a group of characters whose separate narratives interlock to produce an ‘ensemble drama’ that eventually becomes a crime melodrama. Aaron (Riz Ahmed) and Ed (Ed Skrein) are small-time drug dealers who find themselves embroiled with both Kirby (local big time dealer recently out of prison) and Kirby’s erstwhile protegé Chris. Trying to move in on the same drugs trade are Marcel and a young teen, Jake. Mobile phones with their replaceable SIMs and their databases of contacts are valuable and when one goes missing it drags ‘crack whore’ Michelle and eventually the East European Katya, victim of trafficking, into the web of relationships. This bald outline suggests a familiar drugs-focused crime film and, combined with the relatively young characters and the setting, that recent British film genre, the ‘urban film’. However, in both formal and ideological terms, the film promises more.

Ben Drew first released a single of his rap ‘iLL Manors’ in April and it attracted attention because it seemed to be that relatively rare phenomenon in contemporary popular music – a ‘political’ commentary on young people’s lives making explicit references to ‘rich boys’ (like Cameron and Osborne) and the ‘real’ reasons for the outbreak of riots last summer in the UK. The video for this single includes several characters who appear in the film and presumably some footage that was shot for the film. Here’s the music video:

This is an ambitious film which is why it is surprising to find that it’s part of the Microwave scheme organised by Film London to help first-time young filmmakers who have demonstrated their talent and potential. The scheme was originally set up to produce films with a budget of under £100,ooo to be shot in 18 days. The unique aspect of the scheme was the mentoring of directors and producers by more experienced UK filmmakers. Arguably the most successful of the early films produced under the scheme was Shifty (2008). In many ways, Shifty is the best comparison film for iLL Manors. The same actor, Riz Ahmed (himself also a rapper) appears in both films in a similar role. However, in Shifty, the writer-director Eran Creevy had the support of several more well-known actors, a tight script and a single location with relatively few complex scenes. iLL Manors has a cast with more non-professionals, a much longer script (50% more), many more scenes/set-ups and significantly more post-production work. My first reaction was to query how much more Ben Drew spent on the film and how Microwave now works. The current scheme seems to have upped the budget limit marginally to £120,000 but I’m sure I’ve also read that Drew had to find extra funding for post-production. Even so, the completed film is an impressive achievement and Drew is clearly a talented director of actors as well as a creative writer. Credit for the fresh look of the film also goes to cinematographer Gary Shaw, something of a veteran of London ‘effects’ shooting who lensed Moon for Duncan Jones. There is a useful press pack on the film available here and lots of promotional material on YouTube and other sites.

Critical commentary

iLL Manors got a relatively wide release from the independent distributor Revolver (which had its first big success with Kidulthood – the film which helped to begin the current ‘urban film’ cycle). The initial release was successful with over £250,000 taken during the first weekend from 191 cinemas, but in Week 2 the number of cinemas fell to 83 and the screen average fell by 65% for an overall fall of 85%. This could be read in several ways. Revolver may have concluded that an initial release to capitalise on the strong profile of Plan B would need to go wide first but that most of the audience would get to see it via DVD and online later. But it also looks like word of mouth was not strong.

Some of the more critical reviews charge the film with collapsing into what is referred to as soap opera or melodrama, specifically an ‘EastEnders Christmas special storyline’. This is a reference to a pub fire that brings several narrative strands to a climax. I don’t watch TV soaps any more, but I understand the charge. I felt at this point in the narrative that moving into melodrama mode was not a bad idea and I think the charge is more a problem of lazy critics. Ben Drew should be applauded on several levels. His music, with mini-biographical songs about some of the characters accompanying a montage of their histories is well-handled. There is a strong sense of authenticity about the locations and the casting and we do get a sense of what it must be like to grow up without much hope in a place like this – since this is precisely the area close to the Olympics site which is supposed to be ‘regenerating’ East London the film also carries a political charge. This is Drew’s own neighbourhood and he represents it with vigour. The problems in the film are mainly concerned with over-ambition. With this many characters, each of which with their own story as well as their contribution to the overall narrative running over 2 hours, it’s easy to lose track of who is doing what to whom. I’d like to see a tighter edit with perhaps one or two of the stories slimmed down or disappearing altogether and perhaps a little more concentration on presenting the action for audiences like me who are less familiar with the lifestyles. Having said that, I’m not the target audience. Drew has said that his focus was the 15-25 age group. In that sense he has done the film no favours by presenting a title which the BBFC deemed worthy of an ’18’ certificate – certainly for the ‘bad language’ as well as the drug scenes and extreme violence. I did feel that the violence towards women was excessive – but perhaps it is acceptable in terms of the narrative. Certainly this isn’t an easy watch – but it is worth spending two hours with.

Delicacy (Délicatesse, France 2011)

The beautiful Audrey Tautou

I enjoyed this film very much. What struck me most forcefully was how Audrey Tautou has become even more beautiful as she has aged. In the first part of the film I was worried that she was being asked to again play the part of the gamine – which I know turns many audiences off – but in later scenes she is allowed to play closer to her real age and with her hair down I find her stunningly attractive. And can anyone wear pencil skirts and glide down a corridor in heels like Audrey? Ms Tautou reminds me of the stars of the studio period. She plays close to her star persona in each role. If you don’t find that persona appealing, you’ll probably have problems with her performances as a whole.

Delicacy is supposedly a rom-com but it bears little resemblance to Hollywood romcoms. I’d describe it as more like a romantic comedy drama. Audrey is Natalie, who in the first brief section of the film is married to her dreamboat, but then quickly widowed. The narrative proper then deals with her attempt to ‘live again’ which is accomplished with the sweet Markus (nicely played by François Damiens), the bumbling but charming Swedish worker who becomes part of her office team.

Delicacy is the first feature from the brothers David and Stéphane Foenkinos. Stéphane  has experience mainly as an actor and as a casting director. David has joined his brother on just a couple of projects, but his was the novel on which this screenplay is based. The novel has been extremely popular in France and in her (recommended) Sight and Sound review (May 2012), Catherine Wheatley tells us that the screenplay was written more or less with Audrey Tautou in mind and its overall tone and feel draws strongly from that sense of the quirky, the mischievous and sometimes the possibility of darkness that Audrey embodies. (I’m reminded of that minor masterpiece À la folie . . . pas du toutHe Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, 2002.)

Natalie and Markus (François Damiens)

The problem for many Hollywood romcoms is that they swing between blandness and sweetness – or they react against this and deal in cruelty or crudity. Subtlety and lightness are hard to sustain. I think Delicacy manages to combine some contradictory qualities very well and that’s what makes it satisfying. Because this is a first-time effort for the brothers Foenkinos they arguably try out a range of narrative devices and some work better than others but I think that freshness and originality is to be applauded. The main issue with the film seems to be with Markus and the assumption – by other characters in the narrative and by some audiences – that he can’t be attractive. He’s balding, slightly podgy and tends to wear sweaters to work. He’s also Swedish and self-deprecating (there are some good jokes about Swedishness). None of this rules him out as a warm-blooded human being that Natalie can respond to.

As one of my friends put it, Delicacy offers a pleasant and engaging evening’s entertainment. We enjoyed it as part of our escape from the jubilee nonsense in the UK and it worked a treat.

Prometheus (UK/US 2012)

Noomi Rapace as archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw in ‘Prometheus’

Prometheus is a good example of ‘Global Hollywood’ and its release in 2012 points to several aspects of how Hollywood is coping with the evolving global film ecology. The film is a prequel of sorts to the Alien franchise which began in 1979 with three further instalments (and two more related to the Predator franchise) over the next thirty years.

The production cost an estimated $130-140 million to produce and a great deal to market ($60 million if the 50% of production cost rule applies). Only a Hollywood studio could afford that kind of money. It was produced by three companies, two American and one British for the studio major 20th Century Fox. Producer-director Ridley Scott is British, the scriptwriters are American. The principal technical credits are for Europeans who are all US residents (Polish cinematographer, Italian film editor, German music composer). There are thirteen speaking parts in the film and these are played by five English, two Scottish, one South-African, one Irish-German, one Australian, one Swedish-Spanish and two American actors. Having said that, all the principals are known to American film and television audiences. As if to add to the confusion, the art director Arthur Max is an American who has worked mostly in the UK. The film was shot mainly on Pinewood sets in the UK and on location in Iceland, Scotland and Spain. The extensive visual effects work was carried out in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand.

Trying to assign ‘nationality’ to a film like Prometheus is clearly pointless. IMDB currently describes it as a ‘US’ production. That must be wrong. If anything it is a British production using international talent and facilities, all of which are paid for with American money (though of course that money probably comes ultimately from a variety of sources).

Prometheus is a ‘tentpole’ release by 20th Century Fox, a News Corporation company. Its release strategy follows that of Avengers Assemble (or whatever it is called internationally!) in releasing to the ‘International’ market a week before the ‘domestic’ North American release. I haven’t yet seen a convincing argument as to why this development has taken place. We know that ‘international’ is now twice the size of ‘domestic’ but that doesn’t explain why it necessarily comes first. In the UK, Prometheus opened on 1,019 screens with 73% of box office coming from 3D presentations (UK multiplexes are now almost completely converted to digital projection). Given that the opening date coincided with the Jubilee celebrations this was perhaps an odd decision. On the other hand, it was also a school holiday (it’s a ’15’ release) and the weather in the UK has been terrible – which is always good for the box office. I expect a healthy total for the full week following a weekend screen average of $10,000 (though the inflated cost of 3D presentations disguises the admissions numbers). The film opens in the US today.

But what about the film as a narrative? It deals with a mission at the end of the 21st century to find an alien civilisation which may have visited the Earth 3,000 years ago – as seen on cave paintings. (This idea is loosely drawn from The Chariot of the Gods, the 1968 book by Erich von Däniken.) The ship’s crew find the remains of an alien base, which at first appears derelict, but then . . . etc.

I confess that I’m not a Ridley Scott fan. His films are brilliantly ‘visualised’ and always contain exciting sequences – but most of the time they are also confused and messy in their storytelling. On a few occasions Scott has had a decent script and a strong cast and the film is a standout – I give you Thelma and Louise and Alien. (I still can’t forgive the scriptwriters for what they did to Phil K. Dick’s work in Blade Runner.) Unfortunately, I have to agree with what I think is the majority verdict on this, his latest film. Prometheus looks great, the cast is terrific and the script is pretty ropey. (I watched a 2D version.)

Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are terrific, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron have less to do but certainly have a presence and with supporting cast as strong as Kate Dickie, Sean Harris, Timothy Spall and Benedict Wong there shouldn’t really be a problem (the casting and the theme of the film are very reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s underrated Sunshine).

There will no doubt be a sequel (i.e. at least one more prequel to Alien) but I hope that more work goes on the script. I’ll just mention one irritating script element. At the beginning of the film a credit tells us that the ‘Prometheus’ has a crew of 17 – yet only 10 of the crew have lines of dialogue. In a confined space like the ship, doesn’t it seem lazy to have nearly half the crew as simple, mute spear carriers?

I think in the end that this ‘global film’ isn’t in fact ‘global’ enough. It will be interesting to see how it fares at the box office outside Europe and North America. An English-speaking audience will hear its ‘Britishness’ in the dialogue but that will be lost in dubbing. In the first week, Prometheus was released in 15 territories and entered the international chart at No 3. It failed to beat Men In Black 3 (in 90 territories) and Snow White and the Huntsman (in 45 territories). The comparison with Snow White is significant. That film was in its second week in some territories but its screen average was still higher than that of Prometheus. The grittier, more ‘realist’ end of science fiction is not such a global attraction as comedy and romance/fantasy.

Many territories will see the film as simply ‘American’. On the other hand, there is not a specifically American ideological feel about the story – though it does have a ‘creationist’ discourse which I assume will resonate more in the US than it does over here. It’s worth remembering that the original Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon (co-creator of one of my favourite science fiction films Dark Star (1974)) during the counter-culture years in Southern California – indeed, Wikipedia suggests that the Alien script was developed from Dark Star. I don’t know if that influenced the sense of corporate exploitation of space with its truculent crew but the Alien films seem quite different in ideological terms to the Star Trek franchise (which has always felt like an odd combination of progressive, liberal ideas married to an American military ethos).

It’s going to be interesting to see how feminist film studies approaches this ‘re-boot’ of the Alien franchise. And I’m particularly looking forward to the analysis of Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw v. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, triangulated with Noomi as Lisbeth Salander. I suspect that Ms Rapace is here to stay. She looks and sounds different – and she is an outstanding acting talent.

Sebastian Bergman (Den fördömde, Sweden/Germany 2010)

The murder squad with Bergman (Rolf Lassgärd) centre and Vanja (Moa Silén) on the right.

This two-part narrative offers an unusual TV format – two 90 mins crime stories which together make a single 180 minute narrative about the principal investigator. (The German TV channel ZDF lists them as 2 x 100 mins, so there may have been cuts.) I’ve not come across this before as far as I remember. Usually a ‘mini-series’ or ‘special’ will be a single crime story spread over two or three episodes. What seems to have happened here is that the Nordic Noir interest in the personal life of the central investigator has been pushed to the limit and has now become the main narrative driver.

The central character is a psychologist/psychological profiler named Sebastian Bergman (the joke about the famous Swedish film director comes in part 2). He’s played by Rolf Lassgärd – one of Sweden’s best-known actors. Lassgärd is excellent but he carries a lot of baggage having played Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander – in the first Swedish incarnation of the character – and appeared in a series based on the Martin Beck novels, the original Scandinavian police procedural success from the 1970s. Mankell himself married Ingmar Bergman’s daughter a few years ago. The producers of this series worked on the original Wallander and Part 1 of this series went out on Christmas Day 2010 in Sweden – creating a TV event which must have been a bit like the death of Inspector Morse on UK TV in terms of its resonances.

Sebastian is in virtually every way an unsympathetic character. We are introduced to him via a scene in some ways reminiscent of one of his Wallander roles (the opening to The Man Who Smiled, 2003) – giving a lecture to police officers, during which he reveals himself as an egoist who makes offensive remarks to two of the women in the audience. Simply put he is a serial shagger and that is an important element in the narrative. Brilliant though he may be as a profiler, Sebastian is a vulnerable man in terms of controlling his libido and he has been damaged by the loss of his wife and small daughter in the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean – believing he could have saved his daughter.

The original Swedish title of the series translates as ‘The Condemned’ or ‘The Doomed’. Does this refer to Sebastian? In Part 1 the ‘retired’ Bergman helps to solve a shooting in his own home town where he has gone to visit his old house after his mother’s recent death. He clearly knows the two senior police officers conducting the investigation who accept his help, but he immediately antagonises Vanja, the bright young woman who does the main leg-work for the murder squad. The young blonde policewoman at various times wears her hair tied up Lassgärd in a short ponytail – at which point she looks remarkably like the late Joanna Sällström who played Kurt Wallander’s daughter, Linda in the Krister Henriksson version of the Mankell stories. In Part 2 Bergman again forces himself upon the reluctant investigation team in order to solve the serial killing of three women which seems to be the work of a ‘copycat’ killer. Bergman himself ‘solved’ the original crime and it soon becomes apparent that the killer has a personal interest in Bergman.

I don’t want to spoil the narrative pleasure of anyone who wants to watch the series – on the BBCiPlayer in the UK – but it will be fairly obvious that the main focus is on the central dynamic of many Nordic Noir narratives, i.e. the relationship between the older, damaged/vulnerable male investigator and the bright, confident young woman.

I enjoyed watching both parts, but on reflection they seem very different. Part 1 seems to be in the tradition of the small-town procedural. I like the use of the school gym as the temporary murder squad HQ and the general sense of claustrophobia in the small community. Part 1 is directed by Daniel Espinosa who made the big film hit, Easy Money (Snabba Cash) immediately before this TV episode. The shaky camerawork is irritating I know, but he does achieve an edginess which works well with the claustrophobia and the short flashbacks to possible crime scenarios fit well into the editing pattern. By contrast, Part 2 is directed by one of the two co-writers, Michael Hjorth. This seemed much blander and closer to TV crime series conventions. The crime story has no links to Part 1 at all and as a serial killer story it’s much more North American (and also closer to the recent Those Who Kill, the Danish series on ITV3). All the Swedish (and Danish) series seem to me to be much weaker when they go for the action genre finale. Even in The Killing 2 and The Bridge, I found the final confrontation to be much less compelling than what went before. The characters are what make these series unmissable – we can get chases, fights and stand-offs at any time.

Bergman, as portrayed by Lassgärd, is a fascinating character. You want to punch him in the mouth, but you know that he is going to come up with something (after several mistakes). I’ve seen several comments that make him out to be very similar to the Robbie Coltrane character in Cracker. I didn’t watch enough of that series to be able to make that judgement but there always seems to be a sense of fun about Coltrane – Lassgärd is a much darker presence. I could take more of him in episodes that were more like Part 1 here. In the meantime, it’s back to the French series Spiral which I haven’t yet got into. We expect the Scandinavians back in a couple of months – anyone know when exactly?