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Female Presence in Foreign Film – Denmark & Sweden

This is the second part to my Females in Foreign Film Series.  Make way for the ass-kicking Danish and Swedish leading ladies.


(The Killing)


Photo Credit – en.wikipedia.org

A fantastic Danish crime series that was eventually adapted into a US version, but trust me, the Danish one is better. The ‘who done it’ storyline is set in Copenhagen and revolves around Detective Sarah Lund (portrayed by Sofie Gråbøl). Each series Lund has a missing person/murder case to solve and the first series its that of 19 year old Nanna Birk Larsen. The series is increasingly atmospheric, it’s always raining, and the grey Copenhagen city backdrop adds even more mystery to each episode. Its incredibly fast paced, you can’t blink without missing something important, and, obviously, its all spoken in Danish so you have to read fast or you’ll wind up behind. But this just makes you feel more involved, and to be honest I forgot I was even reading subtitles after ten minutes of the first episode. The storyline and writing is so good you’re yearning for the next episode after each one finishes. What draws you in the most though is the lead female Sarah Lund. Her fantastic Christmas jumpers will have you adding at least one to your wardrobe and her struggles with balancing work and family will leave you exhaustedly sympathetic. What makes her so endearing however is how she follows her instincts, without any hesitation. Something women should do more, I think, because they’re often right. Her desperate need for the truth forces her to charge into the darkness without knowing what unsettling stories she might unearth. But it’s mostly down to actress Gråbøl playing Lund so brilliantly that makes the character so admirable. She says a thousand words with just a frown and her long, sultry, thoughtful looks into the distance will have you contemplating the situation just as hard as she seems to be. You don’t hesitate to commit to every move Lund makes as she leads you through a captivating series.

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

 Millennium Trilogy

Photo Credit – amazon.com

Perhaps one of the most powerful female characters I have ever come across, throughout all cinema, not just foreign, I found within the Millennium trilogy. A series of Swedish films based on the books by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. The title originally was Men Who Hate Women, so you can begin to imagine what these stories are about.  Although there is a strong focus on corrupt government cover-ups of murder and abuse, the driving theme is the awful extent in which women have been victim to terrible abuse from the hands of powerful, authoritative men. But the woman in question, Lisbeth Salander, portrayed by Noomi Rapace, is in no way a victim. A weird, anti-social, vengeful yet gentle hacker genius. She isn’t a blonde, gorgeous Wonder Woman type of hero, which none of the women I’ve talked about are really, so we can call her an anti-hero for arguments sake.

During her turbulent childhood she and her mother endured horrific abuse from her father. After finally initiating revenge as a child by setting him on fire, now, in her adulthood, she is listed as psychotic and incompetent and has to answer to a guardian. This person happens to be rapist and child abuser Nils Bjurman who has complete control over Salanders life. The first of many injustices Lisbeth faces thanks to the Swedish Government. Taking advantage of his position, Bjurman sexually abuses Salander. Unable to tell authorities of Bjurman’s behavior due to her declared ‘unfit’ mental state and Bjurmans high connections, Salander takes the matter into her own hands and secretly films an encounter in which Bjurman violently rapes her, later using that footage as blackmail to stop Bjurmans reign of control. There’s a brilliant, yet agonisingly violent, scene which Lisbeth tattoos Bjurmans chest with the words “I AM A SADIST PIG AND A RAPIST”. Revenge is sweet. She’s not the only female within the trilogy that is abused at the hands of powerful men, but unlike Lisbeth, the other girls were unable to exact revenge. The first film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, follows the disappearance of a young girl whose uncle is desperate to find her. Whilst journalist Mikael Blomkvist teams up with Salander to track her down they uncover a nightmare of truths endeavored by a ring of men in positions of authority and aim to bring a stop to it once and for all.

During the next two films, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest you will fall for Lisbeth even more. She becomes not just the anti-hero you witness in the first, but an out and out justice fighting hero who suffers more and more wrong doings. Wanting to live free and unchained is the next fight she has to endure. She is put to trial for the murder of three men, and the prosecution are quick to cover up and defend any of Lisbeths abusers. But thankfully, with Lisbeths ‘fuck you’ attitude and a little help from a strong female lawyer the truth begins to reveal itself. And you’re behind Lisbeth with every minute of the trial just praying she gets the justice she deserves.

Lisbeth Salander is violent, she’s aggressive, emotionless, distrusting but underneath all that she’s really just a small, smart, shy and gentle character. And I’m not sure anyone could embody all this in one role as well as Noomi Rapace does. Even Rooney Mara’s performance in the David Fincher 2011 remake didn’t give me everything Rapace did. But the writing of the character is what makes the books and the films so strong. She’s a great action hero, without really being an action hero and you can tell through the books Larsson loved writing her as much as we loved reading her.

So I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about with regards to the strong female in foreign cinema, namely New Zealand, Danish and Swedish. I’m sure there are so many more from around the world I haven’t even began to explore yet. I appreciate the Angelina Jolies, the Julia Roberts, the Emma Watsons of mainstream cinema, but some of the strongest female figures in cinema, for me personally, are a little more to my east than my west.


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