For fans of Henning Mankell's mystery novels featuring the Swedish police inspector, Kurt Wallander...
...for fans of the television series Wallander with Kenneth Branagh as the Ystad inspector...
...try this Swedish film, The White Lioness (Den Vita Lejoninnan), made in 1996. The movie doesn't have the intricacies, character depth or lengthy and involved plot threads of the book, but come on now. The White Lioness is 500 pages of densely written prose. The movie runs just 104 minutes.
In this time the movie manages to pack the basic story line, which is a tricky, serious story about a political assassination, planned in South Africa to take place in Scandinavia, with action, steady detection and style. Equally important, The White Lioness gives us an excellent Kurt Wallander played by the Swedish actor Rolf Lassgard. We have a Wallander who is in his forties, a big, rumpled man edging toward being seriously overweight, especially around the jowls, a lonely man who drinks too much, a cop who is authoritative and respected. Unlike the Branagh version, as good as it was, this Kurt Wallander, while lonely and sad at times, doesn't make such a big deal of it.
With Wallander, we're in the middle of what seems to be a puzzle: An attractive real estate agent goes missing and is later found in the boot of a car with a bullet hole in her forehead. Unlike Wallander, we saw it happen and why. Right from the start we know white extremist Afrikaners in South Africa are planning to assassinate somewhere in Scandinavia a major South African leader. We even meet the icy ex-KGB man this group has hired to mastermind the operation. He's called Konovalenko. Jesper Christensen plays him with ugly, convincing ruthlessness. We meet Victor Mabasha (Tshamano Sebe), the hitman who will work with Konovalenko and who finds himself out of his depth. We see the two of them establish themselves in a small, empty house in the snowy countryside outside Ystad. We meet a Cape Town police detective named John September (Basil Appolis) who knows something is happening but not why or how or when.
We see a lot of Ystad, a lot of Swedish countryside, all of it cold and covered with the dirty remnants of old snow. We see a good deal of sunny Cape Town, too, and the shantytowns where the blacks must live, even if they're police inspectors. We tag along after Wallander in Ystad and Cape Town, watching him laboriously put the pieces together. On those cold days and cold, cold nights around Ystad, cold murder takes place. The final shootout, with a high-powered rifle versus a car, is so startling and well visualized that we're almost as upset and queasy afterwards as Kurt Wallander was.
Just as with the book, The White Lioness is as much a vivid and complicated story of the planning and foiling of an assassination as it is a look at what South Africa had been and, with Nelson Mandela, might be on the brink of becoming. The movie is part tricky plotting, part police procedural (interspersed with effective sequences of chases and violence) and part mild political primer. The White Lioness worked so well for me because it gives a fine Kurt Wallander by Rolf Lassgard, thoughtful, smart and probably tied too closely to his job for his own good.
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