Purity of Vengeance (Journal 64), TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/17/20 18:28:20
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Department Q" has, as a film series, reached the point where it not only has to deal with characters staying in the same place rather than having some sort of shift in their job or life, but where a character is compelled to mention that they really didn't have this many perverse cold cases before Carl Mørck was assigned to them. It's not quite a breaking point, but it's a spot where I suspect everyone involved is thinking about how to avoid inertia while not changing the series's basic appeal.And it does okay. This time around, the more personal narrative that takes center stage for those following the characters as much as the mysteries revolves around Carl's partner Assad (a first-billed Fares Fares), who is given a rare chance to move up while confronting the issues with being an Arab in Copenhagen more directly. It's nicely and sympathetically laid out (down to the way emphasis is placed in the phrase "non-ethnic Danes" to make it sound reluctant and avoid positioning Assad and his friends as outsiders), giving Fares the chance to act as the movie's rock rather than just having Assad be Carl's. It takes some of the pressure off co-star Nikolaj Lie Kaas as well; his morose, cynical detective can hold steady rather than having to plumb further depths, even making a joke or two on occasion.
This case launches in the present with the discovery of a mummified family around a table with one empty chair in the walled-up room of an apartment, and touches on an uglier bit of Danish history that can't be entirely consigned to the past (don't they all). In this case, it's the story of Nete (Fanny Leander Bornedal), who was sent to the island "girl's home" of Sprogø in 1961. The place would later become infamous for illicit experiments and forced sterilization in the name of eugenics, with Nete's particular tormentors doctor Curt Wad (Elliot Crosset Hove) and nurse Gitte Charles (Luise Skov). In 2016, Wad (Anders Hove) is now running one of Copenhagen's most successful fertility clinics, and once Carl and Assad tie the room to Sprogø, it's not altogether unreasonable to assume that he may have been intended for the empty chair and thus might still be a target.
The filmmakers do a nice job of rolling things around, letting the audience struggle with how the pieces never seem to fit until the brilliant but temperamental detective sees the twist that's obvious in retrospect. There's an art to this that's hard to appreciate until one sees it done badly; director Christoffer Boe and the three writers adapting Jussi Adler-Olsen's novel do a nice job of balancing the flashbacks, the current investigation, and the subplots involving the Assad's position without making it seem like anything is getting too little time, and even the bits of misdirection that a mystery story needs to allow for a good surprise in the last act. They and the film in general seem also more genuinely repulsed by the violence against women inherent in its story than is usually the case, treating it as ugly and shameful rather than a secret lurid thrill.
It is, as with the others in the series, a quality production, with an excellent cast chosen more for embodying who the characters were at a given point than the ability to impress the viewer with how well people match. The filmmakers know how to squeeze every cent out of their budget without being too slick all over or slacking on the seedy and cramped corners. The snowy background of the present stays constant even as the flashbacks track the seasons, grounding Carl and Assad in a familiar melancholy while sending young Nete from the peak of a hopeful summer to the darkest winter.It's the sort of well-done mystery series one can take for granted because, dark and topical as the entries may be, they're not revolutionizing the genre. I must admit, I kept forgetting why I had this movie circled on my festival schedule before checking and realizing that it was the new Department Q movie, which is how it goes with series of quality genre films in an environment where everything is supposed to be special. A consistently good mystery series is sort of special these days, t hough, and it's almost always worth diving into this one.
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