Bridge ( Bron/ Broen) season 2..

(I was looking in my archive and was shocked to see that I hadn’t published this post!! Especially since it deals with my 2 obsessions neatly wrapped in 10 episodes of pure bliss. Scandinavian Crime and Lady Detectives!)

bron
Bridge 2. Or Bron/ Broen 2 as it is called in original Danish/ Swedish. Speechlessly great, astounding tv. You know why you should watch this show even if you don’t watch anything else ( other than the equally brilliant first season)?

Outstanding Female characters.
So so non-cliched. It is a pleasure to see shows where women are shown as people. From heroic to bad ass villains to ordinary people caught in life’s complexities. The sheer range of women characters in Bridge- from cops to activists to lovers to tycoons to bitter troublemakers is huge. And there are no thin, young, suspiciously smooth-faced actors there. These women look and feel real and purposeful. Their individuality, intelligence, sexuality is so human, that watching something like Bridge painfully makes you aware of the sexism in virtually every other show.

Saga Noren.
The emotionally distant and inhumanly brilliant Saga gets a painful back story in this season, but the writers do not try to lazily explain Saga away. Saga epitomizes everything about the show. The morality, value system, detached honesty, cool rationality and a sweetly dark humour that makes you happy to be imperfect. The sheer range of this character makes me speechless. She is Lisbeth Salander’s nemesis – with a law rulebook in her hand. Saga tries hard to follow social norms in this season, mostly with hilarious outcome. She is trying hard to be in a relationship too and has memorised all the popular wisdom about modern relationships. Her desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to be part of the normal society actually end up exposing the inherent hypocrisy of the world. Saga, ultimately, is so pure and adorable that you want to protect her from humanity. Not that she would let anyone do that.

Martin.
The intensely huggable and possessing merriest sparkly eyes with the best smile on TV papa bear, Martin is battling his demons from season 1. He is self-destructive in such a relatable way that you want to extend your hand towards the screen and stop him from treading the path that you know will harm him and his dear ones. Saga is perhaps the only one he relates to and is genuinely fond of without any complications. Martin is like you and me- weak, vulnerable, susceptible to temptations but ultimately a nice guy who desperately wants to do the right things.

Partnership.
Saga and Martin is one of the best detective partners in recent times. They are poles apart but are bound by their obsession with work and mutual respect/ affection for each other. Their friendship is priceless for both of them and is the only steady anchor in their rocky lives. In this season also Saga saves Martin’s family. Martin continues mentoring Saga in social niceties and being protective about her, albeit to disastrous results. When these two characters come together in one frame, it crackles with chemistry and camaraderie. Non romantic partnership between an eccentric woman and a more conventional and caring man seems to be the latest Scandinavian gender-bending formula, see Girl with Dragon Tattoo Series, The Killing. Saga and Martin seem like a classic detective pair- a cool, uber-rational, slightly superhuman genius ( Sherlock Holmes) is paired with a warm, genial partner ( a pumped up version of Watson) and the two form lasting friendship. But life is more complex than simple formulas and The Bridge shows us just how so. Towards the end of the show my stomach was twisted in knots with fear that our beloved pair might break off their friendship. The climax, was not unexpected but gut-wrenching nonetheless.

Lack of clichés:
Anything clichéd is going to be demolished in this show. If you, like I, try to be smart and predict the outcome- you will fall flat on your face. Because Bridge 2 is on a mission to give you characters, motives, clues and turn of events that twist the genre and your norms till they are unrecognisable. Seriously. Anything can happen in this show. So make sure not to form too many attachments and cling to any Sherlockian theories here- you will be deeply humiliated.

Emotional pitch:

I was watching the last episodes literally with bated breath, i.e., when you hold your breath for too long and your throat and jaw aches from too much emotion. The show peels away the characters and lays them bare. There is cruelty and honesty in the way we see the battle of conflicting emotions. Every lined face, every leafless tree, the dreary weather, race against time, disappointments, surprises crackle with muted tension. If it was not for Saga’s ‘I want to be normal’ humour, the show would have been unbearable in its sheer intensity.

Storytelling:

Even with a slightly sloppy and disappointing final answer to the mystery , the overall unrevealing of the suspense of the show is pitch-perfect, edge-of-the-seat. Which is not surprising knowing it is the Bridge we are talking about. There is very little one can talk without spoilers, so let me just say that your nerves will be fried in delicious anticipation when you watch the show.

Acting:

See it. Can’t be lauded enough. Can’t be reviewed. Just see it. Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia are gods. And while Saga is a more challenging character, I think Bodnia’s Martin is my most favourite performance in the show.

Humanity:

Finally, the real success of the show is the deep, very relatable and very very moving humanity that envelops every character, every event, every motive. Be it extreme ideologies or misguided people or dysfunctional relationships- this show champions the imperfect humanity in all of us in a manner that is brutal and still filled with love. Does this make sense? After watching Bridge, I am unable to watch anything else because it just feels so fake and shallow and wannabe.

In nutshell, see the show. And be happy that such TV is being made and we are being able to watch it.

(I was looking in my archive and was shocked to see that I hadn’t published this post!! Especially since it deals with my 2 obsessions neatly wrapped in 10 episodes of pure bliss. Scandinavian Crime and Lady Detectives!)

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The Killing (Forbydelsen) Season 3

I managed to finish the season 3 of Forbydelsen a.k.a The Killing.

The show blazed the trail for worldwide popularity of Danish thriller shows. Along with Borgen and Bridge, this show helped cement the Danes’ reputation as master thriller makers. It also introduced us the character Sarah Lund, who rewrote the rules for female detectives onscreen. Just like Lisbeth Salander did it for angels of vengeance .

In season 3, Sarah is ready to take on more desk jobs and is about to become a grandmother. But do we want Sarah Lund the administrator? Of course not. She gets caught in a web of murders, political cover-ups and revenge crime as she hunts for the kidnapper of a daughter of a financial tycoon. The kidnapping case uncovers an older crime- an orphan girl’s brutal murder and rape. An election is under way and various political personalities benefit from the murder being kept under the wraps. What will Sarah do to bring the victim to justice when her own life is at stake?

It is a typical Scandinavian formula, popularised by Girl With Dragon Tattoo and Wallander series, amongst others. Society and institutions fail innocent people. Moral obligations and accountability are put in conflict with personal gain. Can justice for an individual be sacrificed for larger goals? How can social institutions protect the vulnerable without compromising the stability of society at large? What is the role of an individual when she is called for action in this situation?

The story telling is complex and taut. The characters are compelling. The production values are excellent.

But even then this season fails to bring that sense of climax to Sarah’s epic story and answer the questions raised about society in general.

Her character is lacklustre compared to earlier seasons. The whole fun about Sarah was her headstrong and rebellious stoicism. In this season, she lacks the punch until the very last 15 minutes of the show- when we get our beloved reckless and stubborn Sarah in full form. It is great to see a grandmother kicking ass and shooting the villains and threatening prime-minsiters though . And Sofie Grabol does an excellent job as usual.

The romantic track between Sarah and Borsch is dull. So is her relationship with her family.

The clues to the mystery are clichéd and certain scenarios seem too far-fetched. The tendency to doubt every single character was good in Agatha Christie’s time, but in 2013 it just seems naive.

The appeal of the first season was also the story arc of the victim’s family. For the first time a thriller focused as much on those who lose someone as those who are hunting the killer. In this season, the family of both the kidnapped girl and the murdered girl don’t appeal to emotions. I am tired of hysterical martyr characters of mothers in stories where a child is a victim. Why can’t we have mothers who in control of the situation and express their grief in less melodramatic manner? It is a lazy shortcut to appeal to viewers’ sympathy.

We the fans looked forward to the grand finale to the grandmother of modern crime with high expectations. Maybe it is the too high expectations that disappointed me. As a stand-alone, it is still a great season, way above its English language counterparts.

Dead women erotica

OK, I am not a Gone Girl groupie and I wrote earlier about how this sensational bestseller has misogynist problems of its own. But when I saw this image from the upcoming movie based on the book, I still groaned.

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In art and fashion and cinema, dead or dying or tortured women are fetishised and their agony is sexualized. 1980s’ slasher movies of Hollywood or the titillating rape scenes from Bollywood are crude examples of the same. But you see that even mainstream portrayals of women in varying degrees of pain,agony, death, torture suffer from the fetish trope.

It is not surprising that David Fincher has come out with this hugely problematic image. After all, marketing campaign of his Hollywood crap version of Girl with Dragon Tattoo attracted widespread criticism when he chose to sexualise Lisbeth Salander- a rare character of a woman whose whole essence is against objectification of women. This article sums it up nicely.

I can’t understand why Hollywood rarely makes creepy movies with not-so-normal female characters well. Fuck Fincher and the whole mediocre old boys. I highly recommend Stoker, if you want to watch debauched- erotic-creepy-women-centric thriller.

stoker

It is disturbingly beautiful, eerie, deliciously pervy and doesn’t reduce its female characters to fetishised tropes. Hurrah. Not to mention absolute hunky bad boyness of Matthew Goode. This is a great Hollywood debut of Oldboy fame Park Chan Wook. He brings the uniquely Asian storytelling and cinematic style here with aplomb.

Lady Detectives Part 2: The Scandinavians

What is it about Scandinavians writing about gruesome crime that sets them apart, above all the violence drenched world, at the very top of the murder ladder? There are some first class crime fiction from every corner of the world out there, but the Scandanavians kick collective ass when it comes to stories of blood and guts.

Is it the densely dark atmosphere and snowy landscape and morose environment? Is it the fact that since in reality there is so little crime there that the Scandinavians’ imagination is more fertile when it comes to fictionalising it? Is it their innate sense of justice and fairness that finds voice in crime fiction?

Whatever it is, as far as I am concerned, there is nothing that comes even remotely close to Scandinavians when it comes to spinning moody and beautiful yarns about the evil corners of humanity.

What also sets them apart is their very liberal and progressive voice that challenges our notions of what constitutes crime and criminals. Women in Scandinavian countries are perhaps better off than any other region in the world, and it is reflected very well in their crime fiction.

So without further ado, moving on to my favourite scandi heroines.

detective inspector huss
golden calf
glass devil

1. Inspector Irene Huss ( Helene Turnsten)

Irene Huss is a tough cookie. A martial arts champion and mother of two, the beauty of the books is the way her domestic life co-exists peacefully with her action packed professional one. Irene is also very matter of fact about a middle-aged woman’s desires and occasional fantasies. Apart from brilliant characterisation, the novels also have a charming sense of humour.

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blood spiltsavage altaruntill thy wrath
2. Advocate Rebeka Martinsson ( Asa Larsson)

Rebeka is very nordic dark and the novels are set in Kiruna the northernmost city of Sweden. Filled with images of endless snow, crippling cold and magical northern lights, Rebeka’s troubled past and her propensity to keep life at distance make for a mood drenched reading.

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girlfire

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3. Lisbeth Salander ( Stieg Larsson)
What is there to be said about Salander? The girl who put a spotlight on scandi thrillers is still impactful, albeit little male fantasy a la Lara Croft.

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anne holt
4. Hanne Wilhelmsen ( Anne Holt)

Hanne is anti-social with a capital A and very difficult to like. The novels are admittedly not brilliant, and it is the character of Hanne , who is gay, which saves them from being mediocre.
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hidden child

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lost boy

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5. Erica Flack ( Camilla Lackberg)

Erica is a writer with a nosy streak that always lands her smack in the middle of investigations by her boyfriend/ husband Patrick. The couple is adorable and the novels are rich in detail about their lives as young parents, postpartum depression, sibling rivalry.

linda wallander
6. Linda Wallander ( Henning Mankell)

Linda is the great Kurt Wallnder’s daughter and has the moroseness to match. There is only one book featuring her in the lead role , I wonder why? Linda is one of the most important characters in Wallander universe and as the books progress, she comes across as a meaningful person on her own, not just his daughter. Looking at the delicious neuroses of her famous father, her character could have become more fully sketched on her own.

ashes

day is dark

my soul

7. Thora Gundmundsdottir( Yrsa Sigurdardottir)

If you can pronounce the names in the Icelandic series, you will be pleasantly surprised by the lighthearted sense of humour and spirit of bonhomie in the novels.

meet me malmo

murdermalmo
8. Inspector Anita Sundstrom ( Torquil Macleod)

A relatively new entry to the bloodthirsty scnadi ladies, Anita is tough and brilliant, with an unfortunate propensity to fall in love with wrong men.Get couple of these books and loose yourself in the colour of red- the white snowly landscape just makes it better..

Gone Girl..marriage, misogyny and madness

gone girl

I had this New York Times bestseller and the new literary sensation on my kindle for a few months now. Maybe because everyone said how brilliant it is, maybe because it was called the New 50 Shades of Grey ( it absolutely ISN’T) and because of the whole bruhahah…I decided not to read it then. Like I haven’t watched Gangs of Wasseypur simply because a lot of people have told me it is very good.

Yeah yeah,an old woman is allowed to be snobbish now and then.

So, back to the literary suspense phenomenon of the year, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I finally read it over this weekend. Especially after my entry for the Marriage Project, I was curious to know what this thriller about marriage going sour was all about.

It left me with a weird bad taste in my mouth.

I really really loved the first half and was heartbroken by the end of it. Sort of like friendships which start out to be this change-your-worldview type and fizzle out by end of the month as nothing but just smartass- jokes- over- a- cup -of -tea types. Disappointment, thy name is life!!

The novel is about a married couple Amy and Nick. Amy disappears one day and Nick doesn’t come across as a killer, but neither as a bereaved husband . All izz not well in their seemingly sweet marriage. First person narration and diary entries tell a story of a marriage that has unraveled to the point where nobody is safe.

Writing is absolutely phenomenal. Like Thomas Harris good. Like Henning Mankell good. Like Natsuo Kirino good. I almost thought I found one of these suspense writers I am going to love till they die or I die. Gillian Flynn chews words and spits them out all new. She has a deadly dark sense of humour. Her characters become alive like a hologram. Atmosphere is pulsating. She loves teasing you and is actually good at it, most of the times. Reading her is intense, like eating something really hot and continue eating it till your tongue is numb with overload of spice. She is never fluffy, never wastes a sentence and readers who love psychological thrillers will be surprised by her almost genre breaking style.

She really excels in exploration of a deterioration of marriage, which is the most marketed USP of the book. It is like she peels off the layers of our notions, expectations, conventions, petty beliefs about marriage one by one. And then throws it on the wall, several times, till it looks like an ugly, loaded compromise. Ahem, I confess I identified a couple of times with both Nick and Amy. Marriage is not very easy, I guess. And reading an absorbing novel which is a brutal autopsy of it, does make you look at your spouse sideways, guiltily and cherish the book’s snarky bashing of married-hood.

SPOILERS…

The most hateworthy aspect of the second half is the misogyny. Flynn’s female protagonist comes across as a bit naggy at first and I thought, here goes another nagging wife ( absolving the poor husband of any moral guilt if he is a killer.) Then she turns into this slightly insecure woman intent on rebuilding her marriage and I felt a little bad for her. Then she turned into this super smart, wicked schemer and I was like wow girl!! At this point in the book, Amy is intensely critical of the cultural expectations from women to be fantasy figures for men. And she is sarky, and smart and vengeful and someone you really root for.

And then she turns into a big fat STEREOTYPE!!! A manipulative woman who fakes rape, exploits and kills a man who helps her, forces pregnancy on husband, clings to him as a parasite … WTF??

Gillian Flynn , you killed a totally kickass female character by falling in the trap of making smart women in books either suffer or be monstrous. Amy could have been Lisbeth Salander good, now she is just another passive-aggressive mommy holding her husband by his balls. Badly done.

Plot sucks, like big time, in the second half. She gives the big twist in the middle, which is quite good btw, and instead of focusing on the things that made the first half such a stunner, like relationships, mean behaviour, scattered clues etc., she jumps into silly justifications, uncharacteristic behaviour, unbelievable reactions. Amy’s future plans were completely unbelievable for a woman who has planned framing her husband for over a year. Random characters stealing money from Amy was a lazy excuse to get her back. Her killing a friend was just throwing murder for the heck of it. Frozen semen track left me laughing aloud. And why does she want Nick back? It totally ruined it for me and then on I flipped through the pages for the heck of it.

Anyway, you have to give it to Flynn that she has written a book that is impossible to ignore. And she does deserve her bestseller status and a fat Hollywood advance just for that. Reese Witherspoon has acquired movie rights already.

Now I hear David Fincher is going to be directing it. The most over-rated director in Hollywood who butchered the Hollywood version of The Girl with Dragon Tattoo. Don’t believe me?

swedish dragon tattoo

The Swedish version with the absolutely incomparable Noomi Rapace.

HW Dragon tattoo

The pile of shit from Hollywood with Daniel ‘Mr. Bond’ Craig and a waifish, mystical looking Rooni Mara who is as far away from Salander as I am from Meena Kumari. Fans all over the world were outraged by the in your face sexualization of a beloved character, Salander, who hates sexism and objectification of women.