Kvinden i buret (The Keeper of Lost Causes) – Dark Danish thrills. (Film review)

The Keeper of Lost Causes photo 01 by Christian Geisnaes

The Scandie psych-thriller invasion of the new millenium continues with Kvinden i buret (The Keeper of Lost Causes), adapted this time from high-profile Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen ‘s novel of the same name first published in 2007 and then in 2011 in English. The film adaptation sees director Mikkel Norgaard with his second feature after the enormously successful Klown, and great TV series Borgen, but the real familiarity will come from the writing with the script jointly adapted by Adler-Olsen himself and Nikolaj Arcel, of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo adaptation fame (not the US one the Swedish one). Many of the elements of the famous Millenium series are present, although Norgaard has a greater interest in design elements and cinematogrpahy, forging a rather peculiar relationships with some genre clichés,  after trusting the writing to cover narrative suspense. The Keeper of Lost Causes is as suspenseful as we’ve come to hope for from these Scandi thrillers, and with the addition of Adler-Olsen’s novel  Fasandræberne (Disgrace) currently in filming, we do well to remember the ‘Department Q’ series is its own world, and The Keeper of Lost Causes, more of an introduction rather than a self contained entity.

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Carl Morok (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is the anti-hero jaded cop, reckless and dangerous in his obsessive right-ness to his colleagues, fumbling and useless in personal relationships, and your only hope if you’re ever in real trouble. Due to his disobedience in opening scenes, he puts his fellow cops at risk and is sent to “Department Q” as punishment, a newly formed pen-pushing job where he is to officially close and shelve cold cases of the last twenty years. He’s assigned an assistant, Assad (Fares Fares) who looks too Arabic to have been trusted with anything substantial since he joined the force, so the pair arrange their basement office with the ambitions of getting through five cases a week. However, in his zeal, Assad places the first batch too close on the walls in front of Morok, and immediately one case stands out, that of Merte Lyngaard (Sonja Richter), an up and coming liberal politician who disappeared on a ferry trip one night, leaving her mentally disabled brother on the ferry alone. The case cited she’d committed suicide, but anyone can see this can’t be the case (and is, in fact a very odd narrative departure from the book). Morok and Assad decide to reopen the case, without strict permission  and quickly find there is more to the case than the original investigation was able to uncover, including the very real possibility that Merte Lyngaard may not be dead at all. In a parallel narrative, early on the audience discovers she is being held prisoner, and that her survival hangs precariously by threads she doesn’t understand. Suspense comes from the creeping closeness of Assad and Morok as they uncover facts about the case, which coordinate into more information for the audience revealed in Lyngaard’s tale. A race against time ensues, when Morork and Assad are removed from the case after being discovered to be disobeying orders and the kidnapper fears discovery.

Fan’s of the novel might have mixed feelings about this adaptation when, despite the clever retention of the creepy Scandi noir-esque energy of the book too much is left out of Morok and Assad’s characterisation that gives them dimensions the film translates to cliché. Where Morok is turned cynic by the run of bad luck he has experienced, and sent to Department Q out of desperation, the film’s implication that Morork is just an arrogant typical anti-hero splices away an opportunity for something fresh. Assad’s swiftness, and talents are relegated to the visual and a warmth in his eyes that makes him likeable, but we get no sense of the remarkable interplay between the cops beyond friendship. Even much of the dark humour has been lost.

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If this is the case in the Department Q relationships, it isn’t in the parallel narrative between Lyngaard and her antagonist, and all the horrors of her experience are kept creeply in tact and well translated to the big screen. It’s possible, that with the rest of the Department Q series firmly in mind, Adler-Olsen intends to explore the relationships further in future films, but this leaves The Keeper of Lost Causes floundering in clichés that weaken the script and are not in the book, and steal from the depth of the book.

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Still, if you haven’t read the book, the effect can work in the other direction, with many of the trappings of noir thriller being given that Scandi influence that made the Millennium trilogy so interesting; elements such as a cold Scandi landscape, powerful inspirational heroines, and darkness lurking under a clean societal facade, locate the film firmly away from its inspirational genre base. It’s a well-edited piece of film making , with the parallel narratives evolving at the same pace, high level of suspense and beautiful production design by  Rasmus Thjellesen (Klown, Pusher II and III) giving The Keeper of Lost Causes a big budget feel the Scandi Millenium series never achieved.  Eric Kress cinematography has a fascinating relationship with colour and light/dark shadowing, that ends up being quite beautiful, particularly settings such as Morok’s apartment, where his kitchen looks like the kind of place a serial killer might disembowel a victim, but his son’s room is bright with yellows and golds. It’s difficult to imagine the need for a Fincher-remake here, and except for a couple of minor predictabilities, it is a thriller that keeps one thrilled for films duration.

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