Straight from TV and now available on DVD, Norwegian Noir ‘Valkyrien’ packs a bewildering amount of action, crossing several popular genres, into its eight episodes, leaving the audience little room to catch their breath. The opening, rather beautiful images of a high tech golden beehive and its willing workers perfectly sets the scene of an orderly, if fragile society.
Surgeon Ravn Eikanger (Sven Nordin) is despondent after his medical colleagues won’t let him try to save the life of his terminally ill neuroimmunologist wife Vilma (Pia Halvorsen) with a new, experimental treatment. Ravn runs across a corrupt civil defence contractor, Leif Lien (Pal Sverre Hagen), who looks after the secret but disused Cold War-era nuclear bomb shelters beneath Oslo’s Valkyrien Square. Leif’s offer is direct and to the point; Leif will obtain the specialist equipment needed to help Ravn treat his now-comatose wife in the secret shelters, in return for treating the private patients he will provide. The patients, basically an assortment of injured underworld operatives, individuals who don’t trust conventional doctors and those with something to hide, Ravn accepts these employment terms perhaps a little too eagerly, and certainly with scant regard to his own safety.
The business of passing Vilma’s disappearance off with a phoney suicide note over and done with, Ravn takes time off from the hospital, and indeed his family life, to start his wife’s treatment. It takes no small suspension of disbelief to run with the idea that Ravn can keep the suspicions of his adopted daughter Siv (a fine, emotional performance by Ameli Isungset Agbota) and his brother in law and family at bay, as well as his long absences from the hospital, but the sheer speed this storyline is moving, helps. Perhaps it’s Vilma’s frail, prone form lying on a bed in a dingy bomb shelter, or Sven’s performance, with its judicious mixture of high, but controlled emotion and professional sang-froid that elicits such sympathy from us. Whatever it is, we’re willing to put aside our reservations about Ravn’s association with the self-interested Leif, who overcharges everyone who comes in desperation to the makeshift clinic.
Pal’s portrayal of the grasping Leif is perhaps the most interesting of all the characters in this medical pot boiler. A job with few, easy to achieve responsibilities – basically a discreet watchman – Leif has a lot of free time to spend writing his book about the coming eco-apocalypse, and the ease with which it could be hastened along by persons unknown. His speech gentle, his body language subtle, inside, Leif is wound up like a clock spring, threatening to break at any moment. He spends his long, lonely evenings exchanging information about threats to the environment, even the very fabric of civilisation, with like-minded conspiracy theorists, survivalists and downright crazies on one of the less fragrant parts of the world wide web.
The image of the clinic’s caged lab rats, subtly juxtaposed with our ‘heroes’ scurrying around the secret tunnels of Oslo, doing favours for members of Oslo’s shady economy, push our more sensitive buttons. The irony that the treatment Vilma is being subjected to is an extension of her own work prior to her diagnosis, making her a species of lab rat in turn, is not lost here. The genetic splicing experiments, and their accidental contamination leading to new, useful strains of life, is surely a knowing nod to the body horror of Canadian film maestro David Cronenberg’s films. The visceral thrills may come a little more restrained than in these late 70’s/early 80’s shockers, but their disturbing power is not in doubt.
The arrival of Leif’s friend, the incompetent thief, Teo, (Mikkel Bratt Silset) who has accidentally left his co-robbers locked in the bank they fleeced of millions, presents us with a few moments of genuine comedy, as Teo clearly couldn’t rob a sweet shop without falling into the fridge. His own desire to live outside society is as genuine, and as crazed, as Leif’s, and his ambitions are sharpened due to the imminent birth of his child, by his poor, lonely girlfriend. That these outsiders are both trapped in their lives, occupations and indeed the shelter, is another delicious irony to be savoured by the viewer. The humour will become much grimmer as our drama of betrayal, secrecy, morality and society explodes in a series of events that, whilst being unlikely, are nevertheless possible and perhaps even inevitable.
‘Valkyrien’ is out on DV 21/8/17 Buy/Pre-Order here:
By Scenester 1964