UK audiences have acquired quite the taste for Scandinavian crime drama, with shows like The Killing, Borgen and Wallander all received with open arms. However, despite this Scandi-crime obsession, the name ‘Roland Hassel’ still remains unknown – and judging by Måns Månsson’s arduous debut, it’s going to stay that way. A popular 1980s television detective, Hassel now lives on in Månsson’s new quasi-docudrama, but audiences expecting a gloomy suspense thriller should probably take a step back; Hassel – Privatspanarna (2012) has very little in common with films like Insomnia or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
An example of form surpassing function, this stripped-back hybrid piece sees the now retired Roland Hassel (played by the original Hassel – Lars-Erik Berenett) attempting to uncover the identity of the assassin who murdered real-life former Swedish prime minister Olof Palme (Roland Eriksson). Without access to any formal police records, Hassel must gather what information he can and allow each possibility to be reconsidered if he’s to solve the murder, which remains an open scar in the history of Swedish politics.
Utilising a purposely grainy aesthetic in an attempt to evoke the sense of viewing the film from a rented 80s VHS cassette, Månsson’s Roland Hassel is as rudimentary and uncomplicated as you could care to imagine. This investigation consists of numerous shoddy re-enactments and conspiracy theories, culminating in a vortex of clever ideas left without a tangible narrative strain to anchor them down into a cohesive story. This is very much a tongue-in-cheek satire of Sweden’s growing crime thriller industry, with high-octane drama snubbed in favour of illuminating the monotonous and blundering nature of detective work. However, despite Månsson’s sharp wit, Hassel remains, well, a tiresome hassle.
There are scenes where we witness the aged detective spend what seems to be an eternity arguing with an automated phone service whilst attempting to book a taxi, as well as a rather dull phone conversation with the host of a radio show discussing various particulars of the crime scene. A parody of Scandi-crime and a reflection on the limitations of documentary filmmaking, Berenett’s Hassel is best taken as a humorous, if overcooked caricature of the conspiracy theorists that refuse to give up on the case of Palme’s real-life assassination.
The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.