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Wallander: Before the Frost (2012)

November 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Wallander: Before the Frost (2012), adapted by Yellow Bird, was originally published as Innan frosten (2002) by Henning Mankell. For a change, it’s written with Linda Wallander as the lead character. Needless to say, with an international star like Kenneth Branagh on hand, the screen adaptation has to charge things around a little to make this final episode of the current series. So, as he ages, we get to see a slightly better adjusted Kurt Wallander who finds himself in with a chance of reconciliation with his daughter. If, as in the novel, she was graduating from the police academy and intended to join her local force and work with Daddy, all Hell would break loose on screen as their volatile relationship blossomed into professional jealousy. As it is, this daughter is pregnant and therefore guaranteed to make our emotional wreck of a Daddy go all gooey-eyed as granddaddydom beckons. Helping him make a break with the past, Anne-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) decides to wake up from her coma and tells Kurt that he’s embarrassing everyone by hanging around the hospital, incapable of coherent speech and looking like guilt personified. She begs him to go away, preferably to a different continent but, if that’s not possible, just out of her life.

Jeany Spark doing her best to remain calm when she finds she not the star

This is yet another of these woefully contrived episodes in which everything links together to make a moralistic point. So, in this primitively black-and-white plot, we’re into religiously cultish behaviour spilling over into everyday Swedish life with a number of arson attacks — mostly property although there’s an initial attack on swans. So let’s break it down into easily digestible chunks. Our hero arrives home at night and greets the dog who’s locked inside all day. This is because all the women in his life have run off and he doesn’t want the dog to follow suit. But he’s just inside the door when the motion sensors outside suddenly illuminate a visitor. This is the ghostly Anna Westin (Maimie McCoy) who grew up best friends with his daughter, Linda Wallander (Jeany Spark). This would be two loopy teens together. Linda has married without having the common decency to tell Kurt let alone invite him to the wedding. As the other pea in the pod, Anna has been the eternal drop-out, constantly running away in search of her father. When he’s reported dead by suicide, she goes religious and even more loopy, wailing and crying at the funeral, and then leaving home (much to the relief of everyone except Linda). To keep the suspense going, her mother, Monika Westin (Lindsay Duncan) was never very forthcoming about the reason for the final breakdown in their relationship.

Anyway, we have this apparition at his door. She’s invited in and with the tact and sensitivity for which he’s rightly famous, Kurt Wallander says all the things most likely to drive her away. And, before you can blink, she’s disappeared as quickly as she appeared. Except there’s no sign of how she got there nor left. Anyway, minimally conscious he might have said the wrong thing, Wallander calls his daughter and, the next day, she appears, taking up residence in her friend’s empty flat rather than staying with Daddy. We now get into what we might call the meat of the episode. Following his instincts that something has disturbed Anna (it’s the first time he’s seen her since the funeral years earlier), Kurt goes to see her mother who suggests her daughter has begun a university course. Naturally, when this is checked out, she proves dropping out remains her priority but she has left behind a pamphlet suggesting she was attending a local mission which helps the homeless. In what’s supposed to be a parallel investigation, a burned body turns up by a lake. With the power of convergence only a scriptwriter can contrive, there’s a bible in the shallow grave. Fingerprints prove it was handled by a schizophrenic known to enjoy setting fire to stuff. A similarly annotated bible is found in Anna’s flat. Ah ha! Bank accounts show Anna was one of a number of people who gave cash to this nutter for the purchase of a house near the lake. This is all coming together now. So we chase everyone on the cash-giving list as one-by-one they kill themselves for “past sins”.

Kenneth Branagh just before he puts his put in it and starts a shooting match

As we’ve all come to expect, there’s an absurdly melodramatic confrontation at the end where death-wish Wallander walks into a house flooded with petrol to talk the ringleader of the group into giving up. With Anna and her mother now safe, Kurt can turn his attention to his own daughter and, with all the heart-felt sincerity we’ve come to expect from both sides, they end up going together to “see” the baby. I suppose this is a good place to finish the narrative arc as Kurt Wallander slowly rises from the depths of depression to something approximating the level of despair experienced by most of us as we struggle through life. He has the personality to flagellate himself at the sight of the next body or when the dog dies or he catches up with the news of Michael Jackson’s death. Perhaps if he has a grandchild to distract him, he can remain normal more of the time. I can’t say I’m even remotely impressed by these adaptations. What works reasonably well on the page has not been translated into anything even vaguely credible in this series. Frankly I’m relieved it’s over and I’m not excited by the news Kenneth Branagh may be going to make three more.

For reviews of other films and television programs by Yellow Bird:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)
The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Headhunters or Hodejegerne (2011)
Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012)
Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment

This another adaptation by Yellow Bird, this time of the second book by Henning Mankell, Hundarna i Riga. Well, for a brief few minutes, I thought the Wallander series had finally hit the jackpot. The Dogs of Riga (2012) started off in a way suggesting an interesting story and, for once, our hero, Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh), acted like a human being. Yes, I know this is completely out of character but, when faced by someone equally depressed and distressed that he was responsible for some men’s deaths, Wallander invites the man back to his now empty farm house (Vanja Andersson (Saskia Reeves) has given up and left), cooks for him, and encourages him to “snap out of it”, “stop drinking himself to death” and more generally, “to get himself a life”. Now if only Wallander himself had tape-recorded this sage advice, he could play it back to himself on continuous loop and slow down on his own guilt trip for having so delicately placed Ann-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) in a coma. Ah well, such are the idle thoughts of an old man watching a fictional young man act so self-destructively. So where are we with this episode?

Soren Malling showing just how well European actors can do angst

Instead of the rather more political commentary which infuses the novel, we’re off to Riga! It’s time for holiday snaps, copious beer drinking and the chanting of football slogans for whichever Swedish team you support (following in the footsteps of British hooligans, of course). We start off with the arrival of two dead bodies in an inflatable life raft on a Swedish beach. They’ve been towed into territorial waters and allowed to float into shore. Once Nyberg (Richard McCabe) gets their shirts off, it’s obvious they have been tortured and, from their tattoos, they are gang members from Latvia. Through Interpol, this brings the morose, chain-smoking Karlis Liepa (Søren Malling) to Sweden for a heart-to-heart with Wallander on guilt. These were his informers. He’s overcome with guilt they have died because of him. Pass the bottle of strong alcohol as we overdose on guilt. All this would have been rather tedious if some enterprising criminals had not broken into Swedish police HQ, ripped open the inflatable and taken the large quantity of heroin concealed there. Leaving some cryptic clues behind, our depressed Wallander-wannabe goes back to Latvia where he’s promptly shot in the head. A merciful release for us all, you might think. Two people simultaneously overdosing on guilt would have threatened the possibility of mass suicides in the viewing public. Now it’s Wallander’s turn to travel.

Ingeborga Dapkunaite facing the risk of becoming another victim of Wallander’s depression

I thought the first visit to Riga was handled reasonably effectively. Wallander’s natural paranoia serves him well and he suspects high-level corruption involving senior police officers. “Trust no-one” are his watchwords. When he’s satisfied there’s little more to be learned he goes back home and it’s at this point that the story drops off the cliff into disaster. So far in this series, we’ve endured the man as permanently on the verge of a mental breakdown and a social idiot, but we’ve been carried through by the acknowledgement he’s actually quite a shrewd operator who usually gets the right answers. Yet instead of acting professionally, talking the case over with his team, discovering who’s running the Swedish end of this unique drug import system, he goes home, makes a discovery and then gets straight on a plane back to Latvia. He doesn’t seem to tell anyone let alone take any precautions. This is the behaviour of a manic depressive with suicidal tendencies. At the very least you would imagine he would alert the Swedish Embassy in Latvia to the possibility someone might have to come and get him out of jail or give him a decent burial. But, no, he just goes back on his own and we’re then treated to one of the best examples of absurd melodrama I can recall sitting through for at least a year.

Kenneth Branagh speculating on whether he can swim to Latvia

There’s a lot of running around, riding on trams, hiding in hotel rooms, and so on. He has the widow, Baiba Liepa (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) trailing around after him. This is just as well since Wallander can’t read the local script let alone talk the local language. The scene where he goes into archives to find a file is beyond laughable. His only guide is a crumpled piece of paper with a name written in local script, he only has an entire archive to search, and he cannot read the catalogue. Even if he can somehow find the right place on the shelves to look, how will he know which of the several books and folders is the right one? Then we have him holding up his hand to stop someone shooting him. Like that’s going to work in Latvia which, according to this episode, is filled with corrupt cops, malevolent ex-KGB operatives, and criminal gangs specialising in drugs and torture. We have a deus ex machina ending with a sniper magically appearing at an elevated window to take a shot and, perhaps, even a suggestion he might bed the widow. That would be a good way of celebrating not being tortured or shot in the head by ex-KGB gang members.

I was alternating between anger and despair during the second half of this episode and finally settled on despair as I watched the good work of the first half ruined by nonsensical plot developments. At least the novel contrives to explore the complexities of the relationship between the native Latvians and the Russian ex-pats. It has something interesting to say on the politics and economics of the situation. But The Dogs of Riga (2012) as a television episode is just pot-boiling rubbish.

For reviews of other films and television programs by Yellow Bird:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)
The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Headhunters or Hodejegerne (2011)
Wallander: Before the Frost (2012)
Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012)

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012) takes us into new territory because, unlike the previous episodes, this is based on a short story, Händelse om hösten, not a novel by Henning Mankell although, as with the previous episodes, it’s brought to the small screen by Yellow Bird.

It’s a distinctly weird feeling to see Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) vaguely happy. He’s no longer popping pills, drinks only in moderation, actually dresses in sensible and clean clothes, and sleeps in a bed. It’s a radical departure from the manic depressive who drank himself into insensibility and slept in his clothes on the nearest surface to lie on. And it’s all the fault of Vanja Andersson (Saskia Reeves), his new woman, her young son, and the damn dog. Particularly, I blame the dog. Well, I was going to blame the dog but, obviously fearing the title, “Mutt of the Year”, the dog decides to do something to right the balance so, when Wallander is looking, it digs up a body in the garden of the farm house the newly-forming family has rented to be home. There’s nothing more likely to return him to an obsessed, manic state than the paranoid feeling someone has planted the body in his garden as a plot against him. Anyway, this black labrador is not done yet and gets on the phone to dogs around Sweden. They are to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure Wallander is returned to the self-destructive state we have all come to know, if not love.

Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) and Ann-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) before disaster strikes

That’s why, when Wallander and Ann-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) climb over a fence to either confront a previous man who rented the farm house or do an illegal search, the two Alsatian guard dogs attack so viciously. Naturally, they want to tear Wallander to pieces — watching him week after week has undermined their “man’s best friend” approach to the world. They want blood. That’s why, in sequence, Ann-Britt shoots both dogs in self-defence and the dog’s owner wraps a sledgehammer round her ear in protest. There’s nothing more likely to get our hero depressed than guilt. Had he not been intent on bending the rules on the illegal entry, no-one would have been hurt. His faithful colleague who had just been promoted and was moving away to another town. Now she’s in a coma and being tortured by “The Incy Wincy Spider” on permanent loop. Apparently background noise soothes people lying unconscious in a coma induced by Wallander. So before you can say, Dognabbit, Wallander is back in his drink-a-bottle-of-wine, sleep in his clothes routine. He’s obsessionally on the case, forgetting to call home to explain why he’s suddenly decided to go to Poland.

Vanja (Saskia Reeves) at the beginning of the slow-motion crash

Ah, yes, Poland. Needless to say, it never rains but it pours in these murder mystery episodes. There’s also a suspicious death on a ferry that plies between Sweden and Poland. A girl is seen falling into the sea and bits of the body are washed up on the shore. Fortunately, with the dogged Wallander on the trail, it will soon become obvious this is a murder and, bloodhound-like, he’ll be hot in pursuit of the killer(s). Naturally, as in previous episodes, the guilty will either commit suicide or face arrest after a vicious fight. The total body count this time is four which is not very impressive, particularly because only one body is covered in blood. It’s a very tame episode with only references to prostitution rather than any other major social problems (anger at Polish immigration is only hinted at). Of course, when we get to the end, Wallander and Vanja are in counselling. As is one of the many ironies, this is the same counsellor who failed to save Wallander’s marriage. It seems, when you burrow down through the flesh and come to the bone, he’s never going to change. Love him or hate him, he’s destined to walk his own road. Whether Vanja will stay by his side is no longer certain. If she takes the dog with her, he’ll be alone again and no longer have an excuse for appearing to be a member of the human race. It’s rather like anticipating expulsion from the Garden of Eden because he insists on eating apples. Nyberg (Richard McCabe) has survived into this series but there are new police officers as Tom Hiddleston has gone on to Hollywood. Some actors are doing well out of this series. As to the verdict on Wallander: An Event in Autumn, it’s slightly better than average because we get to see a range of emotion from all the characters. Light and shade is better than the more monotonous texture of the earlier episodes. As to the plot itself, it relies too heavily on coincidence to be satisfying. Shame really. If the plot had been simpler, we would have had a better balance between character development and the crime to be solved. This is just a bit of a dog’s breakfast (sic).

For reviews of other films and television programs by Yellow Bird:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)
The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Headhunters or Hodejegerne (2011)
Wallander: Before the Frost (2012)
Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

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