Part of an occasional series in which Spank The Monkey travels to foreign countries, watches films in unfamiliar languages, and then complains about not understanding them. This episode: Denmark & Sweden, Spring 2014.
The Bridge is a great show, isn’t it? It’s got such a rock-solid premise, you can see why it’s inspired both British and American remakes. Have a crime take place on the borderline between two rival countries, so that cops from both sides are forced to work together. Have the male one come from a country with a cheesy sense of humour and a lackadaisical attitude to sexual fidelity. Have the female one come from a country whose national characteristics are indistinguishable from Asperger’s at a distance. Björn’s your uncle! Or possibly Bjørn.
But are the stereotypes fair? I decided to investigate, using the wholly scientific method of comparing a recent Danish film against a recent Swedish one. Thanks to the wave of rampant Scandiphilia engulfing the BBC Four watching classes at the moment, there are a couple of faces you may recognise. But put that to one side, and let’s see if the national stereotypes that The Bridge is built on exist in cinema as well. (Or let’s use that as the premise of an entire article and beat my interpretation of both movies until it fits. One of the two, anyway.)
First off, let’s go to Denmark, where fans of The Killing will have a field day watching Klassefesten 2, a buddy comedy whose three male leads have all shared screen time with Sarah Lund. Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen, the boss of Zeeland in season 3) is hugely unlucky in love, and never seems to be able to pull. Thomas (Troels Lyby, who was journalist Erik Salin in the final episodes of season 1) has a new fiancée, and a fledgling music career which will turn out to be a tad short-lived. Niels (Nicolaj Kopernikus, whom you may remember as Vagn in season 1) seems to be the most domestically settled of the three, while somehow also being the one who has the wildest sexual misadventures.
The title translates to The Reunion 2, which is somewhat meaningless in this instance: they presumably reunited in the first movie, and at the start of this one they’re all still regular jogging pals and everything. When Thomas’ CD is critically mauled on release, Niels and Andreas gather some friends to try and cheer him up with a Tuborg- and bowling-fuelled bender, which Thomas has to attend while wearing a kangaroo suit for reasons unclear. It doesn’t have the desired cheering-up effect, and their mutual pal Torben ends up dropping dead in a bowling alley toilet (the cue for a brief overhead shot of his last bowel movement). The three guys feel they have to make the road trip to Torben’s funeral, which takes place perilously close to the date of Thomas’ wedding. But that shouldn’t be a problem, should it? Should it?
Initially, the film plays like a bunch of comic setpieces with very little connecting tissue, even more so when you don’t understand any of the dialogue. Why does Niels pretend to be leg disabled when he’s taken to a strip show? (Answer: mainly to set up an enjoyable scene where he’s trying to hold a serious conversation while pingpong balls are being fired from offscreen into his face.) How do the trio initially end up at the wrong funeral? (Once you realise that’s what’s happened, the next minute plays out exactly as you’d expect, but is still ludicrously funny.) Would the guys really hire a pair of exotic dancers to perform for them in their bedroom in the dead man’s house? (Probably not, but it means we get a magnificent cutaway of the dancers accidentally twerking at the wake.)
If it sounds a bit post-Hangover, then that seems about right to me: I’d imagine that the combination of laddish male bonding and gross-out comedy is a format that could work almost anywhere in the world. (Note to self: test this theory out further on next visit to the UAE.) At first, it’s irritating that there’s no apparent logic to the comic bits, other than a desire to surprise or shock the audience. But gradually, I warmed to Klassefesten 2 quite a bit – either I settled into the comic rhythm, or the rapid-fire pace of the gags eventually wore me down. The big sentimental finish didn’t quite convince me, but you get to like these guys a lot over two hours – even Niels, whether he’s briefly flashing his cock in the trailer (probably should have warned you about that before you played it, sorry) or spending five minutes of screen time failing to extract himself from a woman’s vagina.
Meanwhile, over in Sweden, we have Tommy, for which you need to clear your mind of all those mental images of Roger Daltrey walking face first into pinball machines. The opening scenes of Tarik Saleh’s thriller feel incredibly disjointed, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just down to my usual lack of comprehension. There’s blocky security camera footage of a heist that ends messily. There’s a naked man in the snow, tortured with boiling water before being shot in the head. There’s a burning corpse on a beach in Sri Lanka, watched over by a woman we come to know as Estelle (Moa Gammel). When she arrives back in Stockholm, with a brief pause for harassment from customs, we start to pick up hints that she’s involved in the drug trade, along with her former partner, for whose death it looks as though one of his business associates may be responsible.
Estelle spends the rest of the film struggling to work out what’s really going on. Her and me both, really. Both the trailer and the film try to generate tension by having Estelle and others repeatedly talk about how “Tommy’s coming home”. I spent much of the film thinking, “but wouldn’t that have been Tommy who was cremated in the first few minutes?” A bit of reading around (including the production company’s English synopsis of the plot) suggests that the answer to that question is “yes, but that’s meant to be a surprise, so shhhhh.” Which puts a peculiar slant on the proceedings, because it retrospectively turns Tommy into a revenge thriller where the only person aware that Estelle wants revenge is the one who committed the crime in the first place. For a revenge thriller, Tommy seems much happier working with an atmosphere of menace rather than actual violence. But when the violence comes, it’s jarringly imaginative in its presentation – a man tortured on a full set of electric hobs, and a regrettable incident involving a dog. Set in the runup to Christmas, the film gets maximum effect from the contrasts between the festive season and the criminal unpleasantness, particularly with the use of snow-covered Stockholm landmarks. There’s also some interesting use of source music, with one key scene leeching its emotional dynamics directly from Deep Purple’s Child In Time (ask your dads, kids). But it never quite cohered into a whole for me, and it’s hard to know what to take away from the movie – other than the interesting observation that virtually all of the baddies are foreign, with Estelle the sole blonde Swede on the nominal side of good.
There’s one more thing that might generate some international interest in Tommy, which is that the major role of Estelle’s sister Blanca is played by Lykke Li, possibly the most famous Swede working in pop music right now. (I’m sure Mr Moth will be along in the comments to tell me if I’m wrong.) Tarik Saleh’s directed a couple of music videos for Li, so I guess that this is her returning the favour. She’s actually pretty damn good – she doesn’t look or sound like someone trying to act because she saw people doing it on telly once, she’s really doing it. Inevitably she also contributes the end titles song, a cover of the 1960s Swedish pop classic (and Jeux Interdits tune-stealer) Du är Den Ende. It’s been released domestically as a digital single, but in a demonstration of how shit the modern recording industry is, you can only buy the MP3 if your computer is located in Sweden at the time of purchase. Listen to it below instead, while wondering if it’s not too late to go back to CDs.
Coming next time: Take It To The Tunnel, in which I use the Sky TV cross-Channel remake of The Bridge as a hook to compare Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo and Ray Cooney’s Run For Your Wife.