Sunday, 2 January 2011


Following from my watching the Swedish TV film version of The Man Who Smiled (you can link to that review here)I've been locked down on BBC IPlayer over New Year's, plowing through more of Henning Mankell's Wallander. After the two-part Firewall and the excellent One Step Behind, I am now won over completely by Rolf Lassgard's performance in the title role. And I love the way its Swedish DVD package (see right) presents Wallander as an action hero! Lassgard catches the occasional moment of ingratiating humour, but more importantly the detective's essential vulnerability, which is what drives his obsession with solving crime and putting that small part of his universe right. Firewall, in which a cash machine in Ystad's town square turns out to be the trigger for a world-wide cyber-terror plot, is somewhat slow-developing, which in fairness reflects actual police work; it might well have been called One Step Behind. But its real focus is on Wallander's relationship with his colleagues Martinsson (more fine work by Lars Melin), who, lacking the obsession with his police work, is many of the things Wallander is not, and of course Maya. Marie Richardson is very good, but this is a character created to simplify Wallander's complicated relations with female colleagues, but the key feature is is relationship with Elvira, the diabetes therapist, who turns out to be a plant.

The real firewall is the barrier Wallander has erected between himself and others, even between his own feelings and the rest of the world. His hiding of his diabetes is the reflection of this, but the relationships reveal far more, as his private needs affect his work on the case. By alienating Martinsson, who wants a letter of recommendation for a cushier job in Malmo, a letter Wallander is reluctant to write, he creates a persistent critic of his investigation, marginalising himself as the CID arrive from Stockholm. And of course by failing to see through Elvira, he puts the young computer hacker he's brought into the case. Oddly, the hacker, Robin (the engaging Pia Ojansdotter), has been made a young woman in the film, sort of a kinder, gentler Lisbeth Salander, but also a stand-in for his daughter Linda, who doesn't appear in these adaptations. Salander and Wallander, now that's a pairing to consider! But to Wallander, it's the realisation that his own loneliness has blinded his cop instincts which turns out to be the focal point of the film.

Although in fairness, Wallander's police instincts often seem to be fogged by the reality of his life, and by dropping his other obsession, with opera, these films keep that on a very personal level—opera is all about expressing big emotions in a big way, and one of the points of Mankell's books is to examine the way Swedish society and culture discourage just such expression.

That, indeed, is the point of One Step Behind. The focus is not so much on the revelation of that Svedberg was gay, nor that none of his colleagues suspected as much, but the fact that none of his colleagues knew anything about the man away from the job. Wallander is shocked to discover that Svedberg considered him his best friend, indeed, was in love with him. The key scene is when the police gather to watch the peeping-tom videos the killer has taken of all of them, revealing the things that they hide from each other, and the key moment comes when we see Maya with the Danish cop HC (Peter Gantzler). The scene seems gratuitously explicit, but one of the points is the difference between the out-going, fun-loving Dane and his repressed Swedish colleagues. You can even hear it in the faster, slightly slurred Danish contrasting with the more precise Swedish. The other point, of course, is that everybody lies about their personal lives, if only by omission, to keep them secret even from those closest to them.

Birger Larsen's direction of One Step Behind is the sharpest of the three movies BBC4 has shown, he keeps the pace moving in what, once the identity of the killer has been revealed, becomes a fairly standard story. But he is equally as dynamic with the personal stories, and that's what makes this one the best of the three. Interestingly, watching it after Firewall, which preceded it in terms of release, helps put the characters into better, if slightly confusing, context, and noticing that both stories feature killers shooting themselves makes one wonder if it's an easy way out, both in plot terms and for the killer. Certainly, both are justified in the characters' own minds: Solomon has done wrong, and knows it, whereas Ake wants to keep Wallander alive to let him suffer with loss and not give him the satisfaction of bringing him to justice. It would be somewhat perverse to follow these in reverse order, but I suspect the later adaptations may have lent themselves more to foreign sales; needless to say I'm looking forward to the rest of the series appearing in whatever order.


A said...

Very much looking forward to seeing Lassgård as Martin Beck. I didn't think I'd appreciate super Rolf performance after watching Krister Henrikkson (and the totally bewitching Nina Zanjani) for so long but he is just terrific.

Great piece of writing Mike.

A said...

Speaking of engaging swedes