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CRIME FICTION: & VIDEO : Wallander --: Crime fiction, human reality and depression

Ola Rapace (Stefan Lindman), Krister Henriksson (Wallander),
Johanna Sällström (Linda Wallander)

I've been meaning to write a tad more on crime fiction. I've done a bit of this already so if murder or mayhem isn't your preferred cup of genre you can give this post a miss.

But upwelling within me was a discussion about television crime drama as played out in the excellent new Australian series , City Homicide, and the continuing showing of the Swedish drama series by SBS , Wallander, based on the novels of Henning Mankell.

On a good Sunday night in you get both these gems back to back.

Kurt Wallander

Wallander is especially good. Kurt Wallander is a character created by Mankell as the centrepiece of 9 novels which narrate his police work in the southern Swedish town of Ystad ; and as you'd expect from such a series, Ystad demographics would have been greatly skewed if Mankell's penchant for serial murder plots was played out locally for real.

Nonetheless,Mankell's skill as a writer has sold 25 million books in 37 languages.

This year two more Wallander seriss will be shot in Ystad by separate -- one in English (with Kenneth Branagh as Wallander) and one in Swedish ( with Krister Henriksson in the role)-- film crews, at the same time and the police in the town are reportedly thoroughly sick already of being approached by German tourists for a photograph of themselves outside the local cop shop where Kurt solved many a mystery.

You see, Kurt Wallander is one of the great contemporary creations in crime fiction -- a Swedish Everyman with a penchant for depressive rages whose life is only given meaning through his police work.

He is a fictional continuation of Martin Beck -- another Swedish copper created by the consciously Marxist pair of Sjöwall and Wahlöö.

But the stories in the current series on SBS are not taken from these books. While the first one was based on Mankell's last book in the Wallander series, Before the Frost this was released as a film and featured the character of his daughter, Linda. The rest of the TV/DVD series are original stories not based directly on any of Mankell's books but featuring the series characters.

It's Commedia dell Arte without an ounce of humour.

They are superbly written, directed and acted and you'd be hard pressed to find their equal anywhere else in recent television dramatic experience. Last Sunday's episode was especially shocking, frank and, in its terrible way, tragic. Its theme was a local pedophile network and the murder of a young boy.

Promo for the episode

The Swedes don't pull their punches.

Linda Wallander

I won't spoil it for you by relating the plot, but suffice to say that this episode was another exploration of the perspicacity and character of Linda Wallander who like her father is now a Ystad cop and her dad is her boss.

A major theme in the Wallandar novels is depression and a certain Nordic tension that reminds me absolutely of the films of Ingmar Bergman. That Mankell is married to the daughter of this great Swedish film and stage director perhaps confirms a certain cultural continuity -- although Henning Mankell has had a seventies stint as an avowed Marxist of the Maoist persuasion. In his novels, nonetheless, you get a certain existentialist ethical angst in the raw now played out with a overwhelming concern for the the plight of the people of Africa . Mankell now spends part of his life in Maputo, Mozambique.

The Wallander novels are a working through of many of those issues. However as he comes to create Linda, the daughter, viewed mainly as a component in the dramatis personae network of her father, he has managed to put together a extraordinary portrait of a remarkable but highly identifiable woman. Linda's tragedy and success is that she is her father's daughter and while he does the Swedish thing and occasionally goes on alcohol binges, she has two suicide attempts to her name.

If you get to watch the series the acting by Krister Henriksson is a remarkable fleshing out of words on a page that for those like me who come from the novels to the screen, is almost scary. If you've seen Wallander or the Danish TV series Unit One (also on SBS)-- you'll be surely thinking as I do that Nordic actors are some of the best film actors on the planet.

The role of Linda Wallander is played by Johanna Sällström. Since, this series is primarily about her and her struggle with police work and life, the marriage of this extraordinary actor and the character bequeathed to us from the last of the Mankell Wallander novels makes for a mercurial personal journey caught on film.

Last Sunday's episode had a major impact on me -- but that's not unusual for Wallander (and me watching or reading Wallander), I guess. I was amazed, on edge, engaged and distraught as the tragedy unfolded.

Sällström's performance was wrought with an extraordinary depth and poignancy such that I just had to find out where I could see more of this woman's work as an actor.


Johanna Sällström committed suicide on February 13, 2007. ...

This was thought partly due to her experiences in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

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