…valhalla

Män som hatar kvinnor / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / Men Who Hate Women (2009) Dir. Niels Arden Oplev
Wallander (One Step Behind, Firewall, Sidetracked) (2008) Dir. Philip Martin

Minor spoilers!

I decided to compare these two titles, instead of writing about each separately. They have a lot in common, but one thing’s for sure – they’re both worth watching.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a recent Swedish production based on a best-selling Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. I haven’t read any of the books, and I somehow don’t feel like changing it. Yet, I must admit that the movie seems like a well-prepared book adaptation. The story is nicely developed without any outrageous inconsistencies. I take it’s a good thing. The movie tells us about a controversial journalist Blomkvist and a even more controversial hacker Lisbeth Salander. Investigating together an old case of a young woman’s disappearance, they’re caught up in a bigger scheme involving a big filthy-rich Vanger family, their dirt swept under the carpet, Nazis, Jews, brutal murders, and, of course, men who very much hate women.

The best part is the performance of two leading actors: Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth and Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist. They’re the most unlikely couple, which makes them even a greater pleasure to watch together. They are unlikely since he is an ambitious journalist and she a punk- hacker on probation. Yet, there’s something that’s drawn them together. Here, Noomi Rapace is especially brilliant. She’s talented and fearless in using her entire body to display before us a memorable and shocking performance. She makes it the strongest point of the movie.

As for the characters, most of them are not likeable. On the contrary. It’s impossible to identify with anyone. There is also Lisbeth. On the surface, she may be hard to identify with her, but she catches our attention. Not only do we identify with her, but also sympathize with her (the rape scene is one example). She’s introduced in a very unique way: the first few scenes her face is under a hood. She follows Blomkvist, takes pictures, watches him from a distance. In this way, she intrigues and seems mystical. Another element is her past. What we’re left with are bits and pieces from her past, the past that is full of trauma, crime and violence. Then, there are a few flashbacks, but only at the end is the truth unfolded.

Unfortunately, there are a few ‘buts.’ First, the Vanger family is too big – too many characters, most of who are completely unimportant. They confuse and make the plot harder to follow. Hence, the revelation at the end is not as strong as it should be. Second, there is a redundant sequence at the end. Once we find out whodunit, we’re left with one more revelation: what happened to Harriet Vanger (Ewa Fröling). At this point, I was tired and overwhelmed with the horrible images throughout the entire movie. I just could not bear another confession of a traumatized woman. I stopped caring about her. The movie would be great without it. It was a bit heavy and unnecessary. I don’t see any point in shocking the audience even more.

“Wallander” is a Sweden-set BBC mini-series also based on best-selling crime novels. The series is an adaptation of three Henning Mannkel’s books, again, none of which read by me. The main character and the center of attention is Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh), a detective struggling with solving mysterious murders and with solving his personal and family problems. To make it more interesting, he’s got plenty of both. Always with an awfully tired expression, Wallander is determined to go to the very bottom of the deepest ocean to find the truth. As a poet-detective, as called at some point, he cares for the victims, and believes they still can say us a lot even after their death. Apart from that, he has problems of his own. His ex-wife dates someone else; he realizes he’s been a “crappy dad;” he’s not on speaking terms with his own sick dad; and he pushes himself into serious health problems. Thanks to a beautiful portrayal, Wallander is turned into a unique and memorable persona. As he solves the cases, his personal story develops, at the same time. He overworks himself, does his best not to follow his daughters instructions about healthy lifestyle, emotionally involves into his cases, and even gets his heart broken. I like and trust Wallander. I sympathize and identify with him, as well. I think poet-detective characterizes him best.

“Wallander” has some advantages over “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” First, during three hour-and-a-half episodes, we become emotionally attached to the characters, Wallander and his methods and problems. Second, the series looks great visually – toned down colors, coldness and emptiness. Besides, the story is proportionally divided into the crime cases and Wallander’s personal story. Thus, we don’t become overwhelmed with the cruel images. Lastly, I was more impressed by the BBC show, in general. I’d watch it again. As for the movie, I don’t know if I wanna go through it again. I lacks the poetic air that the series has.

Last but not least, the common denominator of both production is the localization – Sweden. The Sweden is cold and covered in blue and bluish colors. It seems isolated and unfriendly, to some extent. Besides, evil is omnipresent. You may be brutalized and murdered around every corner. Both productions project violence. There are mutilated bodies and devilish crimes. Sometimes it’s unbearable, especially in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – it’s hard to believe such evil people exist. Although they both end with (let’s call it) a happy ending (finding the culprit, solving the case), I felt a greater sense of fulfillment and justice after watching “Wallander.”

To sum up, the Swedish productions offer violent, but fascinating crimes, colorful characters, mysterious atmosphere, exciting turning points, and cold Swedish landscapes. However, as much as I enjoyed “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” I choose “Wallander.” I’d watch it again with pleasure.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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