Monday, 22 December 2008

Tight-lipped in Ystad

I wrote the other day about a marvellous Argentinian actor who expertly conveys a whole range of emotions while remaining almost totally expressionless. Kenneth Branagh gave a fine demonstration of this skill in three stylish films which the BBC has just broadcast. They are adaptations of novels by the Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell; here there is an exhaustive description of the background to the filming.

Branagh played the detective Kurt Wallander and almost succeeded in giving him an interesting if not attractive personality: scruffy, unshaven, diabetic, a self-confessed crap dad and not smelling very nice, he also lacks social skills and tends to converse by twitching his thin lips in silence while you try to guess at what he might be very slowly thinking, if anything. Often, he just wanders away without a word when he gets bored with whoever he is talking to. So of course women fall about with admiration for him, and his chief (male) assistant is madly and secretly in love with him until he is brutally murdered by a transvestite: the assistant, that is. It's a rich full life in the quiet little town in southern Sweden where the stories are set.

Although he can run quite fast and shoot straight when necessary, Wallander is totally exhausted most of the time, or possibly in some kind of coma. This introduces a note of real suspense: one is constantly wondering whether he is going to make it to the end of the episode before he drops off to sleep.

The plots are preposterous, and it is all brilliantly done. There is talk of another three Wallander adaptations being made in a year or so, and I eagerly await them.


Froog said...

You do choose the strangest things to write about, Mr B.

At first, I half suspected this of being another of your little spoofs.

There is a long history of individualising TV detectives with some distinctive medical handicap - whether it was overweight Cannon, prematurely bald Kojak, or, more recently, the autistic/obsessive compulsive Monk. The nadir of that trend was probably Longstreet (I think that was his name) who achieved astounding feats of detection despite being blind. Diabetic, though? Really? Didn't Morse already do that?

Do you recall Not The Times, the unauthorised full-length parody of the paper that came out towards the end of the year-long strike back in the late 70s or early 80s? I recall the TV column in that touting a new American series about "uncompromising black detective, Frank Othello, and his beautiful sidekick, Desd". I was rather disappointed they never actually made one like that.

Tony said...

What's strange in writing about a TV programme one had just been watching? Pretty unenterprising choice of topic, I would have thought: many blogs consist of not much else.
Don't think Morse was diabetic; although it is never stated, my guess is that what this desperately uninteresting character suffered from was constipation.

Froog said...

Real ale and constipation seldom go together, in my experience. But perhaps you're suggesting this was the good Inspector's 'medication' for his problem?

Sal said...

actually, something you'll notice is that ALL the "most powerful" "acting" is done by actors/actresses with essentially utterly immobile faces. meryl streep and marlon brando are the stand-out classics.

it's a human-fundamental thing, when you look into it. there's a classic research project where they ran a series of photo-pairs past the subjects. each pair was of the same actor/actress and in each case the "attempted emotion" was described to the viewers. in each case, one photo was of the actor/actress utterly emotionless, the other was of the person acting the emotion/situation.

and in EVERY case, essentially 100% of the viewers picked the emotionless photo as EXACTLY capturing the intended emotion/situation.

"framing". it's not what humans do, it's what we LIVE BY.