Australian Arts

The Investigation

23 January 2021

9:00 AM

23 January 2021

9:00 AM

Slowly, after what seemed like infinite, malingering delays, virus-driven, the world of arts and entertainment is starting to open again with the big event variety leading the way: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is reopening in Melbourne (though to a limit of 85 per cent rather than a full capacity audience) and all is set for Hamilton to work its historico-rapper magic in Sydney before too long.

Meanwhile, and abidingly, there is television, that first call and last resort of a world that can be imagined.

Somewhere on the streamers you will find the odd masterpiece by that great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, which is a reminder that from the mid-1950s, when Max Von Sydow’s Knight played chess with Death in The Seventh Seal and his outraged father avenged himself on his daughter’s rapist in The Virgin Spring, Scandinavia proved itself to be one of the great cultural centres of the earth, with Bergman producing an oeuvre that was Shakespearean in its variety: think of the range from the ensemble romantic comedy of Smiles on a Summer Night, very like the As You Like It / Twelfth Night species of happy comedy ––through to a monumental, long breathed epic of love gone thwarted and awry in Scenes From A Marriage decades later. And it’s fascinating that this sense of Scandinavian centrality became dominant again with the extraordinary crime shows the Danes have been turning out in the last couple of decades. The Eagle was the dazzling, densely plotted but psychologically credible account of a contemporary Icelandic hero, Copenhagen-based, and his tussles with an antagonist who was a kind of double and with the spectre of his father. Then there was The Killing with its elaborate plot and the towering performance of actors like Lars Mikkelsen.

It was as if Scandi crime was giving back to the genre in serial TV form all its potential Dostoyevskian intensity, all its Hitchcockian depth of gaze and surface glitter. Think of The Bridge where Sweden and Denmark meet and its extraordinary on-the-spectrum heroine played Sofia Helin, who not only fails to cotton on to what everyone else can see but also does the opposite, clairvoyantly and brilliantly, while remaining essentially (though maddeningly) good-hearted.

There are other grand bits of Danish television that don’t fit the crime slot ––Borgen, with its portrait of a woman running a country, Ride Upon The Storm, with Lars Mikkelsen as a caution and a calamity of a priest, the transfiguration of a family soap The Legacy and a dazzling series about the Prussian-Danish war epic 1864 with the young Norwegian star Jakob Oftebro. But crime seems to have been the spur and it’s a new Danish show about a famous death that SBS is streaming at the moment. The Investigation has an intimate resemblance to the previous Danish crime you might have watched as well as a radical difference because it’s a documentarian take on the genre.

It gets its bearings from a famous case about a Swedish journalist whose body was dismembered after she had been entertained on a homemade submarine by a man who subsequently sank the sub.

Many people will remember the bizarre details of the case (though I didn’t). The Investigation is not in any ordinary sense a mystery. It focusses on the detail of the actual process of detection ––divers in search of the body, the recovery of the torso, the efficacy of cadaver-dogs, reports of the submarine man’s quiet-sounding sexuality. The focus is on the detective played by Soren Malling ––who was the editor in Borgen just as the prosecutor here is played by Pilou Asbaek who is the young politico and a counterpoint is set up between ordinary life and the detective’s insensitivities to his pregnant daughter, his relationship with his wife, played by Charlotte Munck, the star of Anna Pihl, another Danish policier, and the emphasis is on the human faces of this strange investigation not least on the terrible grief of the dead woman’s parents. It’s an austere variation on the ravishing Scandi crime formula, this strange meta-documentary drama, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It uses the same intimate approach to human frailty, and it has the same luminescence as the famous crime shows but The Investigation uses a fictional and dramatic technique to markedly muted effect.

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