The Bridge, an Autopsy

By | News, Uncategorized

“When I say that word ‘bridge,’ what do you think of? I would bet you think of connection.” Dr. Nate Kramer of the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters, a specialist in Scandinavian culture, spoke about the Danish-Swedish co-produced TV series The Bridge (2011) at the regular International Cinema Wednesday lecture 20 November. The premise of this hit TV show is that a corpse is found on the bridge exactly between Denmark and Sweden. Because the body is placed right on the border and because it turns out to be two bodies—one half a Dane, one half a Swede—detectives from both have to work together to solve the case. 

Prof. Kramer talked about how The Bridge draws upon various television genres. First off, it is like a police procedural. Shows like CSI (2000), Bones (2005), and Hawaii Five-O (1968) are all American examples, but most countries also have their own police procedurals. These shows, as Prof. Kramer emphasized, are not necessarily whodunnits, rather they examine the processes. They show the autopsies, evidence collections, warrants, and legal proceedings more than the actual chase of criminals. 

Equally important in terms of the episodes’ runtime as well as audience interest is the relationship between the detectives. This is particularly true in The Bridge in which the interaction between the two lead detectives becomes a primary focus of the plot, almost more so than the investigation itself. The show draws on popular inter-Scandinavian stereotypes as Saga, the Swede, is incredibly organized, uptight, but lacking empathy, while Martin, the Dane, is relaxed, friendly, but with a messy personal life. 

The Bridge is also a good example of “Nordic Noir.” “You can think about [Nordic Noir] like the Scandinavian version of a police procedural,” but Kramer wants IC viewers to understand that there is more to Nordic Noir than that. This is also a literary genre, which has now made its way into TV and film, usually about a crime using prose that is rather plain and direct and avoiding metaphors. but, crucially, the narratives are very specifically located. Many are critiques of the Scandinavian welfare state, so their geographical specificity is key. The titular bridge in The Bridge is not just any bridge, but the very recognizable Øresund bridge. So, viewers need to understand that this bridge is not a stand-in for all bridges, nor are the relations between Sweden and Denmark emblematic of all bordering nations. 

That being said, and here Prof. Kramer asked us to forgive the seemingly contradictory statements, that “this TV show leverages the symbolic power of bridges.” While a bridge is something that normally connects, as does the Øresund Bridge, they can also serve to bisect. Bridges are places where flows can be halted, where cultures can be separated, and people searched. Tapping into this idea of connection and bisection is, Prof. Kramer claims, why this TV show has been so popular as to have four different remakes around the world: England and France, USA and Mexico, Germany and Austria, and Malaysia and Singapore. All over the world, there are unique areas that embody the same symbolic power of the bridge to illustrate the contradiction of international connections.

Mobs, Fogs, and Panique in Post-War France

By | News

“Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere,” it’s the key to understanding the style of Julien Duvivier, the director of Panique (1946) according to Dr. Hudson of the Department of French and Italian. Duvivier was an early proponent of the poetic realism in pre-occupation French Cinema. Known for its dense, murky, fatalistic fogs that cover the lives of its characters, poetic realism oozed a sense of foreboding as it depicted an elite, bourgeois society was on the brink of collapse. Duvivier made many famous films in this style including Pépé le Moko (1937) and They Were Five (1936), both of which starred a frequent face at the IC, the unequaled Jean Gabin. 

At the outbreak of World War II, Duvivier fled France for the United States although films continued to be made in France during the occupation. The major French film studio, Continental Films, was personally overseen by Reich Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. These films were generally meant to be lighthearted affairs that were meant to do anything except criticize the ruling Nazi party. One film during the period that went against those dictates—and heavily mirrors the themes in Panique—was Le Corbeau (1943) by Henri-Georges Clouzot. In Le Corbeau, a small French town is thrown into a frenzy by a series of poison pen letters. An atmosphere of surveillance, distrust, and fear lies right beneath the surface. 

After the war, Duvivier decided to return to make films in France, but the France he returned to while radically different in some ways was still clutching to many of its past problems. Charles de Gaulle, chair of the provisional government at the time, called for épuration (a purge or purification) in France. All collaborators or those suspected of collaboration during the occupation were made to subjected to extreme cruelty including public humiliations of forced shavings or public nudity, imprisonment, and even death. One easy way to find a Nazi sympathizer they believed was to accuse anyone who were know to have held anti-semitic sentiments before the war. Unfortunately, this included almost a fifth of the population. 

The atmosphere of post-war France, the one director Duvivier returned to, was again a claustrophobic, distrusting fog. This is where Panique takes place. The film is set in Paris and the night before a carnival is to begin, a woman’s body is found. Very quickly, the veneer of neighborly friendless is questioned and the main character Monsieur Hire, played by “the man of a thousand faces,” Michel Simon, is suspected by all his neighbors. 

Dr. Hudson also suggested looking for underlying currents of retained anti-semitism in the film as well as the film’s use of tight framing, sharp angles, and low-key noir-esque lighting. Also look for how his accusers turn staples of French culture into suspicious behavior so quickly. The film ends with the lines, “Love of Mankind is the Beauty of the World,” which could be read as trite, according to Dr. Hudson, but he hoped we would see it as more of a positive wish to finish this dark film.