I confess. I’ve been criminally delinquent about giving proper coverage to MHz Networks’ splendid output of their International Mystery series of TV thrillers. This is most alarming, as, of late, Antigone 34 and East/West are two of my favorite titles. Well, New Year, new leaf. I’m about to do justice at last to this fine company, and can’t think of a better way to make amends than by introducing my fellow armchair sleuths to the pleasures of 2013’s Swedish killer-dillers CRIMES OF PASSION.
Based on Maria Lang’s best-selling novels, this 3-disc DVD set, comprising six feature-length movies, is a smorgasbord of unending suspense delights. As the title implies, all of these pics revolve around sex as a WMD. And, boy, do they destruct (also toss in lust and obsession)!
The plots involve three beautifully realized characters, leading off with the star Tuva Novotny. Tuva portrays Puck Ekstedt, an excellent name, as she’s a sprightly, stunning up-and-coming member of a university’s top academia. But beauty and brains aside, she has an obsession: crime. She’s addicted to mysteries, true studies of aberrant behavior and the deviant mind. She’s in the right place. Puck also has an unhealthy yearning for Einar Bure (Linus Wahlgren), the medieval history prodigy, guaranteed a professorship. Luckily for both of them, their best friend is the fascinating Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace), the paradoxical fun-loving yet no-nonsense head of the local police detective division. Christer is perhaps the most interesting character in the series. Sort of a Jack Robinson with raging hormones, Christer, when not doing the right thing, is definitely pumped to do the wrong thing. And the wrong thing is every attractive woman in sight. When not working with Puck and/or Einar on an intriguing case, he’s doing after-hours undercover work on various luscious females, whether they be suspects, victims, victims-to-be, villains…or their mothers, sisters, nieces…you name it. What a guy!
Early on, Puck gets involved in a murder. In fact, her upper-middle-class-world is rife with more killings than Midsomer and Miss Fisher’s Australia combined. This allows viewers to be treated to some of the most gorgeous scenery Sweden has to offer. Ditto, the suspects and steamy VERY dangerous liaisons that fuel each…dare I say…entry.
What I love about CRIMES OF PASSION is the unbridled view on sex – on what propels people to do the nastier after they do the nasty. Hooking up, whether married or not, isn’t a problem, it’s a biological way of life. I personally see this as a natural, healthy approach to the human condition; that said, most of the participants end up bludgeoned, hacked, stabbed, shot, dismembered, hanged, poisoned or otherwise inconvenienced.
The casts of guest stars are wonderful (although most Americans probably won’t recognize the majority of these thesps), the writing is tense, funny, coital-friendly and real (credit Jonna Bolin-Culberg, Charlotte Orwin, Kerstin Gezelius and Alex Haridi). The direction needs to be given special attention, as it tipped me off to something I have never seen before on a series. Each director (Birger Larsen, Christopher Panov, Christian Eklow, Peter Schildt, Daniel Di Grado, Molly Hartleb) literally supplies his own vision to the narratives. And by that I mean, via exquisite compositions. The initial selection (Death of a Loved One), for example, is shot in 2.35:1 CinemaScope (already unusual for a television show). Later episodes are in various widescreen evocations, from 1.85:1, 1.77:1 and so on. I love this. No barriers, no stringent rules. Kinda like the sex. And did I mention that the photography (by Rolf Lindstrom, Andres Rignell, Mats Axby, Jan Jonaeus and Andreas Lennartsson) is picture-postcard lavish? Well, I’m saying it now. These six flicks do not resemble television in any way, shape or form. They are theatrical-worthy movies in every sense of the word. And that goes for the audio as well. Each is in spectacular stereo-surround (more on that later). Of course, there’s a reason for this (that my sleuthing subsequently discovered), and that’s because these six movies were released in Swedish cinemas during 2013-14. They’ve only been packaged as TV-movies for Anglo-distribution.
Oh, and here’s the cherry on the jubilee. Like the novels (which I really must seek out), CRIMES OF PASSION is set in the late 1950s/early 1960s. And the productions do for that era what the Miss Fisher folks have done for the Jazz Age. They got the look, feel and color (from very Kodachrome to Sirkian Technicolor) down to a science. The clothes, cars, décor, hair and culture are spot on (so cool to hear the ladies going for that Anita Bjork look). Indeed, all the platinum-blonde babes look like Marilyn wannabes, with a side dish of Mamie Van Doren. And that’s quite a dish.
During the course of the six CRIMES OF PASSION movies, we also get a fly-on-the-wall peek at the personal relationships of Puck and Einar, from their horny, pawing heavy-breathing courtship, to their horny, pawing heavy-breathing marriage. Toward the end, we see their temptation for variety – to add that extra special spice to life (when Back Stage and The Hollywood Reporter just won’t do). Do they give in? I won’t tell. We additionally meet all three protagonists’ relatives (each involved in some lascivious connection). How can those Swedes manage it, and still get to work on time? On a more professional plain, we get to see Puck publish her first book, naturally a sex-tinged mystery.
One episode (one of my two favorites), Dangerous Dreams, actually utilizes a vagina as a tool for murder. To paraphrase the finest line in that 1947 Bela Lugosi classic Scared to Death, “This man has literally been fucked to death!”
My other favorite show, Tragedy in a Country Churchyard, encompasses the kidnapping of Puck’s adolescent niece (Ella Fogelstrom), a mini-Puck, or a Lil’ Pucker, adept at helping her aunt come up with important clues. There’s so much lying, laying and loafing here that it boggles the mind. One of the most evil women you’ll ever encounter (Sissela Kyle), we learn, watched with glee as her beloved husband agonizingly died of appendicitis (refusing to call an ambulance till she gets her final jollies). Appropriately, this is the Christmas episode.
The other four CRIMES OF PASSION pics are as follows: the aforementioned Death of a Loved One, where a student summer retreat, held by her school supervisor Rutger (Gustaf Hammarsten), ends in a slaughter fest when the scholar’s ex-fiancée (Fanny Risberg) shows up with her new female lover (Sanna Kepper). In King Lily of the Valley, a young bride doesn’t quite make it to her own wedding. Bummer. In No More Murders, newlyweds Puck’s and Einar’s honeymoon becomes strained by the discovery of a body in the garden of their lodge. Illegitimacy, adultery, and connections to another series of murders all intertwine. In Roses, Kisses and Death, hottie Gabriela (Lisa Henni, a particular favorite lover of Christer’s) presides over a family estate known for its roses. What starts out as a romantic getaway for Puck and Einar becomes wilted rather quickly when Gabby’s grandfather (Mans Westfelt) is nipped in the bud. Bear in mind that NONE of these half-dozen simmering chillers are duds (although the first three tend to be a bit blander than their follow-ups, that “getting to know you” development process). Every one (ahem) rises to the occasion.
The MHz Networks DVD set of CRIMES OF PASSION is, simply put, sensational. Razor-sharp visuals with movie-theater audio (man, that subwoofer kicks in) in Swedish with nicely readable English subtitles. The music soundtrack likewise must be discussed, as it’s equally terrific. Composed and performed by Frid & Frid, it recalls cool, jazz riffs from the late 1950s, including a “killer” title track, whose English lyrics conclude with an apt “I love you to death.”
My final take on CRIMES OF PASSION is the best one a reviewer can give to a series, and that is hoping there will be another set.
CRIMES OF PASSION. Color. Widescreen [various aspect ratios from 1.66:1-2.35:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround. MHz Networks/Pampas Produktion. CAT # SKU-16784. SRP: $39.95.