While attending the annual Nobel Prize banquet in Stockholm, crime reporter Annika Bengtzon witnesses the attempted murder of the latest winner, an Israeli physician, and the death of one of Nobel committee members. Her subsequent investigations see her clash with the police and, more improbably, with her own editors—who seem oddly reluctant to take advantage of their own journalist's close proximity to the incident.
It’s a real journey for her, and as an actress that obviously appealed to me a great deal
Or perhaps they're simply worn out. After all, it's not as if they lack for stories to cover. Sweden's transformation, in the last decade or so, from chilly, settled welfare state, to simmering hotbed of murder and sexual deviancy, is one of the more unexpected developments in world fiction. But as the bookstores fill with snowbound thrillers, with anyone boasting an umlaut or slashed-o in their name feeling obliged to pen a trilogy (or more), opportunities abound for actors, filmmakers, and any cinematographer with a blue filter handy.
Thus did actress Malin Crépin wind up playing Annika, the heroine of Last Will, a new crime thriller—part of a series of novels by Liza Marklund, whose website posits her as “Scandinavia's undisputed queen of crime fiction”. Crépin, though, has her own thoughts on the Scandi-noir phenomenon:
“For decades, here in Sweden, we had something that seemed very safe and secure. There were darker elements, of course—murder and corruption and so on . . . but no one spoke of them. I think it started to change with the Martin Beck novels (by crime masters Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall). They're brilliant books—and very political. And they shook things up quite a bit. And then, of course, the murder of Olof Palme [Swedish Prime Minister, assassinated in 1986; the crime remains unsolved].
“But,” she adds, “I also think that people have a basic need to be comforted. And ironically, they do that by reading about the most terrible things. Because these books—that whole genre, in fact—are actually very formulaic: there's always a hero to solve the mystery and restore order. So for a reader, it's kind of reassuring: no matter how dark it might get, you know it won't be a tragedy.”
For Crépin, however, the appeal resided less in the film's genre elements, than in the particular role she was offered, and the character of Annika Bengtzon herself: “She's a believable woman, you know? Rather anxious, professionally, trying to get ahead at this newspaper she works for. And so, something of a workaholic. But she's also a wife and a mother of two. And so she has to juggle those responsibilities in a way that I think rings true for many women today.
“And she grows, over the course of the series. By the last film, she's a lot more secure. There's more self-confidence in her work. Her relationships have changed a lot. And we've learned a lot about her backstory, and what made her the person she is. It's a real journey for her, and as an actress that obviously appealed to me a great deal.”
That reference to the “last film” is telling: though Marklund's fiction remains something of an unknown quantity here, Last Will is just the first of six commissioned movies, all based on her novels, with successive installments (Studio Sex, Prime Time, The Red Wolf, Lifetime and A Place in the Sun) going out on DVD, first in Scandinavia and then internationally. Meaning that Crépin was obliged to shoot half-a-dozen feature-length films in a little over eighteen months—a demanding workload for any actor, especially one who, as here, features in ninety percent of the scenes.
“It was . . .” she sighs—then starts laughing softly. “Really, it was kind of terrible. Just months of shooting, then more months in post-production . . . It seemed to take over my entire life for a while. But now it's all over, and I've spent the entire summer just catching my breath. I've read a couple of scripts, but to be honest, I just needed a break and some time to myself.”
Trained at the Malmö Theatre Academy, the 34-year-old Crépin has performed extensively with Sweden's National Theatre, though much of her film work to date has gone unseen outside her own country. Before signing onto Marklund's franchise, however, she found time to co-star in Joachim Trier's excellent 2011 drama Oslo, August 31st, a remake of Louis Malle's 1963 classic Le Fou Follet. But while she has nothing but praise for Trier (“a brilliant director”), she regrets that film's more limited profile—and with it, the sense that contemporary Scandinavian cinema has become associated almost exclusively with procedural mysteries.
“Other films I've made, I wish would have as big an audience as this one. But that's typical of this genre, I suppose. They're commercial stories, in a particular style, and so they have a global audience, in a way that a standard drama doesn't.”
For the moment, she's content to concentrate on honing her own craft. “One of our strengths in Sweden, I think, is our acting. There are a lot of extremely gifted, distinctive actors here. I put that down to the influence of [Ingmar] Bergman, and also the comparatively small size of the industry: we didn't have the budgets to make blockbusters, with big action sequences, so acting was what we concentrated on. Trying to tell small stories as well as we could. And whether it's a genre movie, or an arthouse one, the benefits of that are still evident today.”