(director/writer: Erik Skjoldbjærg; screenwriters: Nikolaj Frobenius; cinematographer: Erling Thurmann-Andersen; editor: Hakon Overas; cast: Stellan Skarsgård (Jonas Engström), Sverre Anker Ousdal (Erik Vik), Bjørn Floberg (Jon Holt), Gisken Armand (Hilde Hagen), Maria Bonnevie (Ane), Marianne O. Ulrichsen (Froya), Bjørn Moan (Eilert), Maria Mathiesen (Tanja); Runtime: 97; Norsk Film; 1997-Norway)
“Skarsgard’s chilling performance exploits his character’s flaws and the mysterious Norwegian atmosphere gives this film an appealing film noir flavor.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A pretty 17-year-old girl, Tanja (Maria Mathiesen), is murdered in the land of the midnight-sun, in a remote northern town of Norway, where the sun never sets in the summer. Two expert Oslo homicide detectives arrive to help in the case. What makes this story different from others of this ilk, aside from the rarity of such a murder story coming out of Norway, is that one of the detectives, the brilliant Jonas Engstrom (Stellan Skarsgard), an exiled Swedish policeman, now working in Oslo, was charged that he had intimate relations with a key witness. He is diagnosed by Swedish authorities with untreated psychological problems and is considered to be mentally unfit to be a policeman.
Jonas’s mental demeanor is challenged when he accidentally shoots his partner Erik Vik (Anker Ousdal), when a trap they set to capture the murder suspect goes awry and he spends the rest of the film trying to cover-up this fatality.
The story follows the brooding Jonas, who is deeply troubled about personal matters and suffers from lack of sleep. How he performs as a detective is chilling. The Norwegian police look up to him because of his professionalism and the emotionless manner in which he handles the assignment, but what is frightening is how this unbalanced man has so much power. A woman investigator, Ane (Bonnevie), is the only one on the force who intuitively suspects that he is not all that he is supposed to be.
It is a bizarre murder case since the killer washed the girl’s hair and clothes and left no fingerprints, and did not sexually assault her. Two suspects are investigated by the police. The former boyfriend Eilert (Bjørn), who happened to break up with Tanja the night of her murder. When the police are questioning him clues arise pointing to another suspect, a writer (Jon Holt), who the detective believes is the older man she was seeing. When examining her wardrobe, the detective finds dresses that he is sure she couldn’t afford to get on her own or from Eilert.
A trap is set for the killer when the victim’s knapsack is found in a remote shed and the cop’s use it as bait. But the killer eludes the trap through police incompetence and by knowing that there was a trap door in the shed and fleeing into the foggy fjords before the police can apprehend him. This is the spot where Engstrom accidentally shot his partner.
The murder mystery itself turns out to be no great mystery, as the expert detective quickly zeroes in on the killer. But the detective’s strangely aggressive behavior with young women is frightening, something that he can’t seem to control. In one incident the flirtatious girlfriend of Tanja’s, Froya (Ulrichsen), is groped by him. This perversion is something the killer understands that he has in common with the detective as they conspire to frame the innocent suspect, both understanding their psychological frailties.
Skarsgard’s chilling performance exploits his character’s flaws and the mysterious Norwegian atmosphere gives this film an appealing film noir flavor. This more than makes up for the less than appealing story line. It is worth a look, if for no other reason than to see how a murder is handled in a beautiful and idyllic country such as Norway. But this film has more to offer than that; it seriously questions police conduct and authority as it leaves a very damaging message, something that is hard to ignore about authority figures the world over: questioning if the police are mentally fit for the work they do.
REVIEWED ON 6/26/99 GRADE: B