Watching this twenty-year-old episode of the Swedish detective series, viewers might be struck by the vast difference in terms of structure and cinematic technique between this and the average British or American thriller.
Director Per Berglund favors a leisurely shooting-style, with characters moving within the frame, rather than the rapid shot/reverse shot. Thus the characters have both the time and space to develop their relationships; we understand clearly the love Wallander (Rolf Lassgård) still bears for his family, including Linda (Cecilia Zwick-Nash), even though the detective is impossible to live with. Berglund also makes astute use of light and shade - the wan sunlight of a Swedish winter casts a melancholic pall over the entire proceedings, as Wallander investigates a brutal murder of an elderly couple and becomes embroiled in a public scandal.
"Faceless Murderer" (aka "Mördare utan ansikte") doesn't pull its punches in terms of its politics. It creates a small-town world in which immigrants are viewed not only as interlopers, 'destroying' the all-white Swedish world, but terrorists as well. When Wallander fails to make an arrest in timely fashion, a series of vigilante groups attack a camp for foreign refugees, burning a building to the ground and carrying out a brutal ritual murder. Wallander manages to discover the culprits, but remains powerless to change entrenched attitudes; it seems that the non-white will always be regarded as a potentially threatening figure.
Rolf Lassgård offers a memorable characterization of the eponymous hero. He shares with Inspector Morse a taste for opera, but his physical bulk, disheveled appearance and boorish manner suggests a personality profoundly ill at ease with himself. It seems that detective work offers him brief periods of respite from brooding about his disastrous personal life. With no one to care for him, he can only take solace in alcohol; on many an occasion he is shown sleeping in a drunken stupor on his sofa, the television hissing in the background (when all transmissions have ended).
The pace might be slow, but director Berglund has a definite talent for creating atmosphere as well as suspense. Having not watched the British remake of the series (with Kenneth Branagh in the title role), I came to this Wallander tale with no preconceptions as to its content and/or form. I have to admit that I'm hooked.
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