Roland Hassel (EIFF 2013)

There are probably two important things you should know before viewing Roland Hassel. The first is that “Roland Hassel” was the name of one of the first Scandinavian crime thrillers, popular in the 1980s. It inspired Wallander, which has since inspired The Killing and Borgen.

The second is that the case he is working on is a real-life one, that of the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, almost thirty years ago.

I feel the enjoyment of this film is almost in direct proportion to your knowledge of these two reference points. The film shows Hassel, along with lots of similarly aged Private Investigators re-enacting the Prime Minister’s assassination. Swedes will no doubt be very familiar with the details of the case, in the same way most Americans know all the theories surrounding the assassination of J.F.K. However, it was all a mystery to me.

The tone of the movie is directly with at odds with a typical detective story. There are no red herrings, chase scenes, or tense interrogations. Instead we get scenes like the five-to-ten battle between Hassel and a particularly annoying automated telephone system.

Scenes like this, which do their best to point out the calamity and disappointment at the heart of Hassel’s character, are littered through out the film. It is a piece that goes to great lengths to be an undramatic as possible and instead things often descend into a kind of tragic farce.

What the film seems to be saying is that tv series and detectives like Hassel ultimately do nothing to solve or put to bed the mystery surrounding the assassination of their Prime Minister so many years ago. Instead, perhaps the best thing people can do is accept that some mysteries will never get solved. These re-enactments, farcical as they might seem, may in fact do a lot more good than the kind of fictional cases Hassel, and detectives like him, normally solve.

Obviously this is quite a strong, profound message. However, it seems like one that kind only be fully appreciated if you have grown up engrossed in the drama surrounding Palme’s death. Perhaps there is a more universal message here, about our need to solve fictional mysteries to make up for all the things in life we will never know, but I do not feel the film is interested in making these kinds of statements. As such, I felt the failing of the film for me is that it fails to move beyond the very thing its characters are trying to come to terms with, and draw these wider distinctions.

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