Friday, April 11, 2014

The Hidden Child (Tyskungen)

THE HIDDEN CHILD (Tyskungen)        B-                
Sweden  Germany  (105 mi)  2013  d:  Per Hanefjord   

Some footprints can never be erased.

Ever since the death of Swedish author Stieg Larsson in 2004, a highly regarded journalist known for investigating right-wing extremism, author of the immensely popular Millennium series that was published posthumously, and the first author to sell a million electronic copies on Amazon’s Kindle, Nordic literature has become extremely popular around the world.  Larsson’s heir apparent is Swedish crime-writer Camilla Läckberg, who has become the best-selling author in Sweden, whose work has been translated into more than thirty languages, including Tyskungen (The Hidden Child), first published in 2007, translated into English in 2011.  Swedish television is planning on turning Läckberg’s series of novels into twelve films, known as The Fjällbacka Murders, with two for general release, and ten 90-minute made-for-TV films, all featuring the same lead actors taking place in and around the Swedish town of Fjällbacka, (1,280 × 472 pixels), the author’s birthplace.  Tyskungen (The Hidden Child) is the first of a series of six episodes that were shot in 2011 and released on DVD (Camilla Läckberg - THE FJÄLLBACKA MURDERS | dvd) in October 2013, but the filming stopped when director Daniel Lind Lagerlöf disappeared in late 2011 while scouting out a film location for the third episode, where it’s believed he fell off a cliff just north of the village.  When he was presumed dead, Rickard Petrelius assumed the new director duties of episodes #3 and #4 of the TV series, while Per Hanefjord, in his first feature film, was chosen to direct the first of the intended international releases.  The Season One made-for-TV lineup looks like this:

Fjällbackamorden morden 1 - Tyskungen (The Hidden Child)  (105 mi)  2013  d:  Per Hanefjord, originally aired October 9, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 2 - Havet ger, Havet tar (The Sea Gives, The Sea Takes)  (88 mi)  2013  d:  Marcus Olsson, originally aired September 22, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 3 - Strandridaren (The Coast Rider)  (88 mi)  2013  d:  Rickard Petrelius, originally aired September 22, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 4 - Ljusets Drottning (The Queen of LIghts)  (89 mi)  2013  d:  Rickard Petrelius, originally aired September 29, 2013 
Fjällbackamorden 5 - Vänner för livet (Friends for Life)  (90 mi)  2013  d:  Richard Holm, originally aired January 2, 2013  
Fjällbackamorden 6 - I betraktarens öga (In the Eye of the Beholder)  (88 mi)  2012  d:  Jörgen Bergmark, originally aired September 29, 2013   

Claudia Galli stars as successful author Erica Falck, who has just recently given birth and whose parents are killed afterwards in a tragic car accident.  A few weeks later she’s moved into her parent’s home along with her husband Patrik Hedström (Richard Ulfsäter), when she’s suddenly surprised by a mysterious man in her home, Göran (Björn Andersson), claiming they have the same mother.  His awkward intrusion may be the actions of a stalker, a rabid fan, so she asks him to leave.  However, when the man is subsequently murdered a few days later, Erica starts taking his claim seriously, especially when her husband, a local police officer, confirms the DNA is a match.  So she starts making inquiries, delving headlong into an investigation of her family past where she’s forced to unravel mysteries that date back to World War II.  She begins by exploring her mother’s belongings, going through her diary, finding old newspaper clippings, searching for any evidence of having a brother, and interviewing several of her mother’s old friends mentioned in the journal.  What she does turn up is a Nazi medallion, consulting a local World War II historian who claims they were quite common in the region.  But as several bodies begin to pile up, all friends of her mother, the deaths suggest unfinished business connected to her mother’s past.  The intersection of her own investigation and her husband’s policework creates internal conflict, as her husband is worried about her safety, wondering if she could be next, and also doesn’t need police evidence compromised by her snooping around.  In most detective stories, the police may drive the investigation, but not here, as the focus of the entire film is on Erica and her discoveries, where the viewer is drawn into her search, which probes her own interior world as well, where undiscovered mysteries of the past continually haunt the present.    

While the film opens with a great deal of promise, given a sleek look and excellent production design, using a film-within-a film technique with flashback sequences back to her mother’s youth where a band of friends help each other survive during the war, but it is ultimately undone by an unending series of convoluted plot twists, each one more preposterous than the last, where it all gets so ridiculous after awhile that we hardly care anymore who did what or why.  While this may work in the novel, adding an underlying historical tension through a kind of memory play of the characters Erica interviews, but in the film all the twists and turns interrupt any rhythm or flow and have the effect of slowing everything down to a dead crawl, literally taking all the suspense out of the film.  The movie exposes hidden secrets, suggesting Norwegian collaborators assisted the Nazi’s in running the Grini concentration camp, while also suggesting there were Nazi infiltrators passing themselves off as regular citizens, some of whom collected information from within Grini while pretending to be fellow prisoners.  In this way, the Gestapo identified the leaders of the resistance movement, who were shipped off to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.  When all of this plays out, however, suggesting there may still be a collaborator in their midst, someone with designs on keeping the truth hidden, rather than amping up the tension by unraveling the clues, it becomes all too predictable, told in a fragmented narrative structure where the secondary characters are never fleshed out but are only used in the advancement of the story.  That’s the real disappointment in the film, especially coming from a novel, as there’s barely any hint of character development, while history is used more for exploitive purposes than a natural part of the story, never really establishing any emotional connection to the past.  The most glaring deficiency is the copycat similarity to the Stieg Larsson movies, especially the historical treatment of Nazi’s in the midst, where the storyline follows the investigations of a journalist who is uncovering dark secrets of the past.  The success of the Millennium series movies, which were also made-for-Swedish TV, was largely due to the novelesque detail of integrating an ugly part of history into a detective thriller along with extraordinary lead performances, where tension literally fills the air.  Here there is wonderful use of local scenery, but the direction lacks the flair to bring any energy and life to this drama, making it a safe and stereotyped movie that actually feels much longer than it is, where there are no harrowing scenes, instead becoming a rather conventional whodunit that won’t surprise anybody.  

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