Scandi Noir: why the world’s happiest countries make the darkest films?

Scandi Noir, also known as Nordic Noir, is a genre of dark crime fiction which is outlined by; violent crimes, set in ‘safe’ communities, bleak locations, for example city streets or isolated fjords, a tortured protagonist like a detective sometimes with a painful past and a strong and often complex plotline. Scandinavian crime was popularised by the book and film, ‘The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo’.

girl with the gragon tattoo

Kerstin Bergman, a comparative literature researcher at Lund University in Sweden, lately gave three reasons for why Scandi Noir has gained so much popularity. Firstly, there is a ‘very strong focus on social and political criticism’. Secondly, there is a ‘very strong focus on setting’ because to a lot of people ‘the Nordic landscape is very exotic’.  Thirdly she says that they are popular as there are ‘so many strong women in them’ which ‘makes them unique’.

Scandi Noir: why the world's happiest countries make the darkest films?

Every year, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network releases the World Happiness Report. This year, Finland won the spot of being the happiest country following the common trend of Scandinavian countries being deemed the cheeriest places on Earth. All Nordic countries scored very well on income, freedom, life expectancy, social support and generosity. Finland was ranked the most stable, safest and ‘best governed’ country in the world. According to Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, ‘the Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing’. So why is it that Finland, and other joyful Scandinavian countries, make such dark and violent films?

Scandi Noir: why the world's happiest countries make the darkest films?

Over the last few decades, British crime novels have become enormously popular in Scandinavian countries, spurring Nordic writers to take on similar dark and twisted topics as they have seen and read in these English novels. Not only do crime novels sell, but the increase in popularity of Scandi noir movies have made it more common for these books to be adapted into successful films. There is something intriguing and unnerving about the direct comparison of the tranquil Nordic settings of these films or books and the violent crimes which take place in them.

So, where can you, too, become immersed in the world of Scandi noir? There is an amazing selection of gritty thrillers, all of which are Nordic noir. For example, ‘Bordertown’ is a Finnish thriller that mixes both family drama and crime into an exciting tale which follows a gifted detective. For a more politically charged thriller, Norway’s ‘Occupied’ is based on the original idea by Jo Nesbø; set after a Russian invasion of Norway.

Scandi Noir: why the world's happiest countries make the darkest films? - backstage tales

Which Scandi noir film would you like to watch?

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Text: Didi Robinson

Images: Unsplash

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