Last Friday, the 17th of February, the Icelandic Film and TV Academy’s annual celebration was held in Gamla Bíó, the former residence of the Icelandic Opera Company.
The Press 2 was among the series and films nominated for Iceland’s Academy Awards and Golden Globe and the star of the show, actress Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir (Lára) was also nominated for her individual performance.
I am not an avid fan of the Nordic crime genre and am generally disinterested in the gloomy and often brutal representation of the underworld. The modernized, gothic expression of the draughts of criminal activity in the relatively crime-free environment of Europe’s Nordic countries more often than not escapes my attention.
In recent years, news reports from both Denmark and Sweden indicate a rise in criminal activity, often enough deriving from extreme right-wing xenophobic groups opposing in particular the presence of Muslim communities.
Reports of violent clashes between local motorcycle gangs and immigrants have become far too common on the streets of Copenhagen and in Sweden (if memory serves me right) immigrants lived in fear last year when a right-wing gunman made several attempts to murder them in cold blood.
The Press 2 plays on the growing fear of motorcycle gangs and the supposed criminal activity in the underground scene of Reykjavík city. Recreating the menacing brutality of Denmark’s motorcycle gangs on the streets of Reykjavík is an attempt to pull the audience into an invisible world hidden from surface of this quiet city.
Behind the lurking fear of invisible criminal activity in the dark of night, the invested eagerness to explore the “what if” criminal world in a country where just about everybody knows at least someone who knows someone you know, is evident to the naked eye.
For 45 minutes, the mundane existence of the islanders, living at the very edge of the civilized world in the violent North-Atlantic Ocean, is disrupted with a six-series world where criminals do rule the streets and motorcycle gangs indeed run illegal operations.
I do not claim that crime is not a reality in Reykjavík or Iceland in general. I was simply unable to develop a genuine interest in the series and the make-believe existence of the motorcycle gang in the dark corners of the city. The reason for my disinterest no doubt goes back to the series’ black and white representation of the motorcycle gang as a definite criminal organization with connections past the watery borders of Iceland.
Then it’s the wealthy but suspicious businessman (played by Gísli Örn Garðarsson), who seems to have his foot in every corner of Iceland’s corporate scene, including the media. On the surface he is charming and sophisticated. In business he is brutal but nonetheless seems to be on the right side of the law. The reference is no doubt to Iceland’s Jón Ásgeir and his ownership of the 365 Media Empire, spiced up with exaggerated ruthlessness and sociopathic tendencies. He is the man who will do what it takes to cover his tracks.
Regardless of the critical tone of ownership in Icelandic media and experience enough to know that crime is an inevitable part of human society no matter the size and shape, I still wasn’t convinced.
One of the reasons I rarely enjoy Icelandic crime dramas is the hollow nature of the genre. Unsubstantiated threats borrowed from the American and Scandinavian genre is just one of the faults troubling me in The Press 2.
The second problem is the characters and the environment in which they operate. Lára’s newspaper is home to a bad-tempered testosterone-driven editor (played by Kjartan Guðjónsson), who speaks his mind no matter the consequences.
His misogynistic inconsideration of Lára’s circumstances as a new mother fresh out of an extended maternity leave, and her troubled home front do little to melt his heart of stone as it appears early in the series.
As a result of his crude comments, and talent to bite a person’s head off for no fault of their own, the working environment of the newspaper where Lára is employed is repressive and male-dominated. Within the four walls of the office, family comes second and maternity leave is an unnecessary indulgence in the other direction.
The reality presented is an unlikely scenario in Iceland as the corporate and business environment is generally supportive of both men and women with family obligations and legally bound to give parents both maternity and paternity leave.
The editor’s character is one-sided as the over-the-top interpretation of the angry editor fails to register as a real character in my opinion.
Lára’s own reckless and naive disposition is not the signature of an investigative journalist, whose responsibilities extend beyond her professional world. As a mother and wife, the investigative journalist in her neglects her duties as a parent to keep the children out of harm’s way.
I find it hard to believe that a seasoned journalist such as Lára is meant to be would expose her family to unnecessary hazards while investigating a story.
Home invasions, sexual assaults and murders do happen in Iceland, but I don’t believe in the veracity of the fictional world created by scriptwriters Jóhann Ævar Grímsson and Sigurjón Kjartansson. This is not writer’s Sigurjón Kristjánsson first crime drama that fails to meet the expectations or the entertainment value of a crime drama. The dark dread of the series is depressing and the characters clichés of the stereotypical tough woman who never lets the man’s world in which she thrives break her, and men who are simply too intolerable to bare.
The genre to me is tired and lacks originality. Crime dramas need a heart, a beating heart that is credible and characters with depth enough to develop an interest in the lives they lead.
I realize I might have benefitted from watching the first series of <i>The Press<p> to build the initial relationship with the protagonists, but I suspect I would have had done so already if the depth of characterization had been sufficiently developed.
Writer Sigurjón Kjartansson is a talented comedian and I hope he continues to write comedies and satires. However, I will give the crime dramas a miss.
But then again, I can only speak for myself. For the avid fan of Nordic crime dramas the impression and the experience may be very different.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]
The Press 2 (original title: Pressa 2), with subtitles in English, is available in webstores such as nammi.is.