Review: Varg Veum: Teken aan de wand – Varg Veum – Skriften på veggen (2010)


Director: Stefan Faldbakken | 90 minutes | crime | Actors: Trond Espen Seim, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lene Nystrøm, Martine Johansen, Petronella Barker, Bjørn Floberg, Eivind Sander, Tobias Santelmann

Detectives are hot again since the immense success of the “Millennium” and “The Killing” series. Well, actually before that too, but the genre always had a somewhat dusty image. Television series like “Derrick” weren’t exactly hip now. Since “Millennium”, following investigative agents is again something that you should not be ashamed of as a hip TV viewer. Scandinavian detectives in particular are taking a piece of this hype. “Varg Veum” benefits from the renewed interest.

Varg Veum – it sounds like the name of a Scandinavian black metal band, but it isn’t – is a creation of Norwegian writer Gunnar Staalesen. The first book about this antihero was published in 1977. The first film about the character appeared exactly thirty years later. The popularity of Veum is steadily increasing and the books have already been translated into Dutch, English, Swedish, Danish and German.

Veum is a gruff private detective living in Bergen, Norway. In “Drawing on the Wall” – as the film discussed here is called – the detective has decided to choose a different profession. Sick of the violence, Veum has chosen to earn a living as a teacher from now on. His quiet existence is turned upside down when his old enemy “The Knife” is released from prison. This villain has been put behind bars because of him and he does not like that. “The Knife” wants revenge. Veum is forced to act as a detective again. A heavy-handed confrontation with his past follows.

What makes this book series – and now also the series of (television) films – so special? First of all, the dark tone. When you think of Norway, you quickly think of desolate plains, icy cold and a bleak climate. Bergen has beautiful nature, but also exudes a feeling of melancholy. The setting is already atmospheric. The fierce storylines that never romanticize violence and crime also give “Varg Veum” its own face. The main character lives in a dark world. A world very similar to ours. The strength of the films, however, is the design of Veum itself. The detective is not a hero, but a person of flesh and blood. A man with a past. He is not infallible and his shortcomings make him human. Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim portrays him as a somewhat dingy figure with a detached appearance. Yet he manages to turn this anti-hero into an approachable character.

Espen Seim portrays his character in a great way. Often detectives are infallible types. Think of Derrick and Baantjer who solve countless murders in their dead field. Veum is not. He has to work hard to solve the mysteries. In addition, he also struggles with everyday life. Life is not easy and Veum knows that too. Sounds very logical, but how often have you heard Derrick or Baantjer talk about their problems? Hardly, and that makes them a lot less appealing. Veum is human, Derrick and Baantjer are not. They are types. What makes “Draw on the wall” so poignant is the beautiful nature in Bergen and the strong soundtrack. You are directly in the story. The layering of the characters is also pleasant to watch. Here we work in shades of gray. There are no black and white characters. Very realistic.

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