'The Chestnut Man' review: A flawed system under siege

In this theatre of death, children have powerful roles, while their loneliness, alienation and abuse are seen through the lens of empathy and concern.

Published: 24th October 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd October 2021 11:16 AM   |  A+A-

the chestnut man

A still from the film

Express News Service

Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which took Nordic noir across the globe, came with a spine-chilling line: “Keep in mind that I’m crazy, won’t you?” It establishes firmly the reason Scandinavian crime fiction, with its bleak, desolate landscapes, complex lead characters and edge-of-the seat plots have found loyal fan bases. In Netflix’s previous Nordic noir show Young Wallander, incessant rain and long drives through forests helped create a suitably dark ambience.

Netflix’s new release, The Chestnut Man, directed by Kasper Barfoed and Mikkel Serup, also ticks boxes—suburban Copenhagen as setting, workaholic sleuths and human depravity. The show opens with a series of numbingly-graphic murders—an entire family is wiped out in a matter of hours, including a police officer investigating the crime scene—in a remote farmhouse way back in 1987.

Based on the bestselling debut novel by award-winning writer Søren Sveistrup, the cliffhanger plot sees two police detectives—Naia Thulin (Danica Curcic) and Mark Hess (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard)—navigating the tensions of personal loss and the extreme pressures of their professional profiles. Young mothers are bumped off by a psychopath on the prowl, their body parts ending up in freezers and cars, in a macabre display of sadism and ingenuity. 

In this theatre of death, children have powerful roles, while their loneliness, alienation and abuse are seen through the lens of empathy and concern. Thulin’s young daughter Le (played by Liva Forsberg) is forever trying to shape a family tree, its empty branches a reminder of her unconventional status in society. Hess, meanwhile, has lost an infant daughter to a fire accident, and is haunted by its spectre even while discharging his professional responsibilities.

Kristine, the missing daughter of the politician Rosa Hartung (Iben Dorner), embodies the emptiness, anguish and lack of closure for grief-stricken parents. The children, often loved, but also sent to the edge of precipices by their guardians and caregivers, reflect how society does not treat them with the same benevolence as widely perceived. Denmark too turns up as a layered character in the show.

The plot offers a commentary on the country’s coalition politics, advanced child protection programme and law enforcement. The bountiful forests, idyllic farmhouses and homes straight out of interior magazines are not always safe spaces, but playgrounds of stomach-churning violence and human perversion. Also, Scandinavia’s welfare policies, hailed across the globe, do not always have intended outcomes but are frequently used by politicians to whitewash their public images.

Sine Vadstrup Brooker and Louise McLaughlin’s cinematography is on point, depicting the lushness of the Danish landscape, endless traffic-free roads, impeccable city skylines and grand public infrastructure. The images invoke a highly developed economy with associated bells and whistles, but also convey an underlying sense of menace.                                                                                      


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