“Case”–Hot or Cold?

Case Netflix Original

Case, Netflix Original

Nordic Noir crime dramas are now being imported and exported at an ever-increasingly rapid rate. Case, a Netflix Original, premiered in Iceland in 2015. In all that sharing of this Nordic noir genre, there has been a great flattening of content and quality with an obvious formula identifying the genre. This is my ninth review of Nordic Noir films and mini-series.  I am so addicted I inhale these grim, bleak, crime thrillers in almost a voyeuristic way. But I tell myself it’s only really dangerous and/or sick if you take action. No worries, but it is like watching a train wreck. Or is this genre an act of subterfuge? Corking our anxiety like acid in a vial?

Case begins in exactly the way we’ve come to expect: a young girl — in this case a teenage ballerina — is found dead in a horrifying scene. A gruff police investigator (with some deficiency in social skills) and her partner (a disgraced lawyer), obsessive and determined, solve the case against great odds from the authorities, those they assume they can trust, and slowly reveal the dark secrets of the entitled class.

In Case a wonderfully dowdy, suitably curmudgeonly, single female detective, Gabriela (Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir), tenaciously works on solving the murder like an OCD avenging angel.

A wild drug-and-sex bacchanalia (common for this genre) provides local color as the stark naked blackmailer addresses his interrogator while distractedly pulling on his “man-meat”. (Is this a new first in cinematography?) Add Case to your Nordic noir watch list.

Movies today are sometimes extreme projections of the silver screen of our fears and dreams. And Nordic noir almost monopolizes the fear category (excluding horror, which I avoid). Case is not nearly as tightly woven as Bordertown, Department Q, or The Break to name a few, Nevertheless, the narrative still held my interest. Instead of evocative red herrings to take the viewer off track, Case has a saggy middle of irrelevant scenes that nearly destroys the pacing.   My advice–stick with it past the first two episodes (of nine) and the narrative picks up with a head-spinning series of surprises especially in episodes seven and eight.

“Bordertown”– New Boundaries in Scandinavian Noir

Bordertown Netflix original

Bordertown (Sojornen)

You can escape the big city and its frenetic fierceness, but you can’t escape murder, not even in the hinterland of Finland. That’s the psychologically disturbing theme in Bordertown, Netflix’s latest international acquisition and the latest Scandinavian Noir drama that’s sure to mesmerize audiences.

Bordertown is also a drama about family in which crime disrupts and plagues the family’s attempts at intimacy and communication.

The main character, Detective Kari Sorjonen, decides he needs to leave the horrors of urban crime for a slower pace, moving his wife and teenage daughter to his wife’s hometown bordering St. Petersburg. Looking for balance between family and work, Sorjonen soon finds himself in the midst of a disturbing investigation tangentially linking the brutal murders of teenage girls to his own family.

The brooding, dark environment –like all great Nordic Noir —underscores the underbelly of nasty psychopaths and their heinous crimes. In Bordertown almost all of the horror involves teenage girls–but the main plot which carries emotional weight throughout the series is that Kari Sorjonen just wants to have dinner with his family without being called away to another brutal murder scene. The fact that his daughter is the same age as the victims overwhelms and drives Sorjonen to maniacally solve each crime.

Sorjonen, as a savant with picture-perfect photographic memory, literally constructs memory palaces with masking tape laid out on the floor. Dysfunctional and deeply flawed in many ways (like Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Monk, and the autistic female detective in each of three adaptations of Brön or The Bridge), Sorjonen is a brilliant crime solver.

If you’re looking for a new heart-pounding crime drama series with one crime solved in two or three succeeding episodes (“Doll’s House, Parts 1, 2 and 3; then “Dragonflies”, Parts 1 and 2), then this is a great option. You can binge view until the crime is solved, three hours of viewing max, before moving on to the next murder.

I’ve got six more episodes to go!

Note: Bordertown‘s series premiere in Finland (October 2016) drew a record 1.1 million viewers, which is roughly a fifth of the country’s population.

The Salesman–Not Exactly Arthur Miller

The Salesman movieThis 2017 Academy Winner for Best Foreign Film defies easy categorization.   The masterful Asghar Farhadi is the director, screenwriter, and producer of the 2013 Cannes Winner, “The Past”, the 2011 Academy Award Winner of “A Separation” and his most recent, The Salesman. All three of these Iranian films are idiosyncratic narratives of Shakespearean themes . The first destabilizes the past reminding us of unintended consequences (The Past), the second focuses on the nature of truth when there are no moral absolutes (A Separation), and the third reveals primal vindictiveness and revenge when one’s family is attacked (The Salesman). The Salesman, despite its low dramatic temperature and pacing, will raise questions about compassion and loss and human decency.

An Iranian couple –Emad and Rana– move to a new apartment. The couple are both acting in a production of “The Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, with some censorship by the government. After a horrific act of violence, Rana does not wish to report the incident, raising questions for her husband Emad and the audience. Rana withdraws emotionally from the trauma and her performance as a stage actress is affected. The air between Rana and Emad remains disturbed. Not capable of communicating their shock and injury to each other, Emad becomes obsessed with demanding revenge from the guilty party and sets out to find him. As the wounded husband who cannot speak of the unspeakable, Emad transforms into someone Rana cannot understand. Now what is unsaid cannot be said. Each is afraid to say the wrong thing more than saying nothing at all.

Miller’s play, The Death of a Salesman” is the cinematic device to create a play within a play, having Enad and Rana mirror the marriage of Willy Loman and his wife Linda. However, with their marriage’s fragility as one of the central plots, the cultural divide between Iranian culture and American seems to obstruct the viewer’s comprehension or sympathy for both Enad and Rana, although Rana’s loss is more poignant and more accessible.

Not as impressive a film as his two earlier award-winning ones, “The Salesman” suffers from its play-within-a-play conceit, a parallelism between the heart-breaking marriage of the Lomans and that of Emad and Rana. This dramatic device did not succeed for this reviewer, and in fact was a distraction, although wondering how this couple would come to terms with their trauma held my interest.