J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

MSPIFF ’19: The Purity of Vengeance


Department Q was created to clear cold cases, but it has also specialized in airing Denmark’s dirty national laundry. That will be especially true of their latest case, which could also be the last for the current team, if the long-suffering Hafez al-Assad accepts a well-deserved promotion-transfer. However, the investigation will hit pretty close to home for the immigrant detective in Christoffer Boe’s The Purity of Vengeance, which screens during the 2019 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

Three mummified bodies are discovered behind the false wall of a flat long rented to a nurse with a rather checkered history. As Assad and his boss, Carl Mørck (who has somehow found a way to be even more miserable than usual) start investigating, they discover all three victims and the missing nurse were connected to a controversial home for wayward girls on Sprogø island. Judging from the flashbacks, we can safely assume the murders have something to do with all the wrong done to young Nete, even though she is one of the three bodies posed as part of a gruesome dinner party.

There is not a lot of mystery in Vengeance, because Dr. Curt Wad is quickly served up as the film’s nasty villain. These days, the public knows him as the director of a fertility clinic, but it is conspicuously obvious he still subscribes to all the eugenics theories he practiced while on staff at Sprogø.

Considering how little Mørck and Assad have to figure out, it is rather irresponsible how long they let their investigation drag on. Even though everyone will immediately assume the eugenics doctor is the bad guy, Boe should at least provide a few more suspects, just to make Mørck and Assad look more professional.

Still, the messed-up chemistry shared by the two detectives is quite compelling. Nikolaj Lie Kaas manages to set an all time low for depressed brooding and self-indulgent self-loathing. His commitment as a thesp is impressive, but we still just want to give him a good slap. Fares Fares is charismatic and convincingly conscientious as Assad, while Johanne Louise Schmidt helps keep the film grounded as their faithful, mediating assistant Rose. However, as the unfortunately named Dr. Wad, Anders Hove completely throws subtlety out the window and wears his villainy on his sleeve.

The first three Department Q films steadily improved, with the third, A Conspiracy of Faith being the best and the smartest of the initial trilogy. Unfortunately, the fourth film is a bit of a step down from there. Those of us who have invested our time in the previous trilogy will be happy to revisit the characters, but as a suspenseful crime story, Vengeance is probably the least of the series. It is also most likely the last film featuring the current cast and creatives, because the franchise has moved to a different studio. Frankly, it is probably time for a reboot and a fresh approach.

Still, it is always worth the price of admission to see what new agonizing depths Kaas can reach. Recommended for fans of angsty, existential Scandinavian mysteries, The Purity of Vengeance screens tomorrow (4/7), Thursday (4/11), and Friday (4/19), as part of this year’s MSPIFF.

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