Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hooked on Wallander

No crime series on television has completely sucked me in like Swedish Wallander. I say Swedish Wallander (shown with English subtitles outside of Sweden) because it's not to be confused with British Wallander, another series based on the murder mystery novels of Scandinavian crime noir star Henning Mankell. UK newspaper The Guardian proclaims "Henning Mankell's detective is Sweden's biggest export since Abba."

You will not find me watching much TV to begin with, especially a murder-mystery (weak stomach...can’t watch too much film violence when there’s so much violence in real life), but it only took a few scenes of Before the Frost, the first of 13 films in the 2005/2006 Wallander series, to hook me.

So far I’ve seen 4 films from the series: Before the Frost (Innan Frosten), The African (Afrikanen), The Tricksters (Den Svaga Punkten) and the film some claim is comparable to Silence of the Lambs, Mastermind. Before the Frost and Mastermind were both released in theaters but the rest of the films went straight to DVD and public television networks such as the BBC and PBS.

Wallander is set in the south of Sweden, in the small town of Ystad in the Skåne region. The films give you a small taste of Swedish culture. In The Tricksters, you see a Swedish crayfish/going away party unfold at the beach, complete with the singing of Helan går (traditional Swedish snapssång/drinking song), while nearby, a suspect tries to cover up paperwork that could implicate him in a killing that initially appeared to be an accident. In Mastermind, Kurt Wallander is delayed during an investigation, held up by a Studenten, a Swedish rite of passage, a traditional Swedish graduation party parade that travels through town on the backs of trucks or tractors with loud music blaring and with dancing, drinking (usually champagne) students toasting their future.

Character development. After reading numerous reviews of this series on the web, most of the comments praise the 2005/2006 films, although some people say the stories, which turn innocent Skåne settings into eerie landscapes, can play out a bit too slowly for their taste. What I most enjoy about these films is they’re not action-packed with violent scenes. I don’t want that! I want to be drawn into the characters, feel something for their them and the lives they lead! In the 2005/2006 series, we’re shown how fathers and daughters can deal with alienation, how a couple that can’t commit to each other romantically handles infidelity, etc. And while weaving their tales, the stories will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Rather than going over all of the plots from this series, I’d recommend checking out this link, which gives you the synopsis and a trailer for all but one film (trailers in Swedish with no subtitles, scroll down past first two films as those are from the 2009 series) but even if you don’t speak Swedish, you’ll get a clear idea of how compelling these films are!):

If you want to watch murder mystery films not inundated with blood and guts in every scene (although there are some disturbing images in these films), a series with compelling characters in hauntingly beautiful (sometimes just haunting) Scandinavian settings, you will, like me, crave to watch at least one episode from 2005/2006 Wallander every week. If you’re in the UK or have access to a good UK proxy, you can watch Wallander live or through iPlayer every week on the BBC. In the US, Wallander episodes are shown on some PBS stations once or twice a month. Or you can buy a DVD set of the series.

Do you have a favorite Wallander scene? Please share in the comments....

Henning Mankell’s first new Wallander novel in more than 10 years will be published next week:

In addition to the 2008 British Wallander films with Kenneth Branagh, new Wallander films are also coming out this year in the Swedish series. I haven’t seen any of the 2009 episodes yet, but I know they’ll be missing a bright star, one of the main characters from the 2005/2006 series (with Krister Henriksson as Kurt Wallander): Johanna Sällström, who played Linda Wallander. She committed suicide in 2007 at the age of 32. You can learn more about her life and filmography here:

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