Hellfjord / Norway / 2012 / 210 mins / Television mini-series / comedy / starring Zahid Ali, Stig Frode Henriksen,  & Ingrid Bolsø Berdal

Let’s be honest, Hellfjord is not as well known as The Killing or The Bridge, not even on the same fame scale as the other NRK’s comedy co-production Lilyhammer (OK, it owes its fame thanks to Netflix). If you think that this Norwegian series is one of the numerous Nordic noir procedural but with a comedic twist, you are greatly mistaken. It certainly has the procedural feel but the humour is not found on the investigation process but rather on its ridiculous characters, dialogues and storyline.

Meet Salmander (Zahid Ali) – originally an Oslo policeman. He kills his horse during the Norwegian national day celebration after believing that his companion was in pain. He even borrows a car from one of the parade attendees to crush the poor horse that the car owner who is in the car when Salmander uses it is left trembled. He argues that he is just following instruction on his guidebook. Unfortunately, children see his action and local citizens are shocked by it. Salmander gets demoted to Hellfjord for three months as he cannot be immediately fired due to a new Norwegian police legislation. He is told that it is impossible for him to do a good job there and that he only gets his job as an officer to meet a racial quota.

Hellfjord is a fictional town (or village according to Wikipedia) in north Norway. The Norwegian word for hell is also “hell” and so, “Hellfjord” means a hell among the fjords. In the first episode’s narration, Hellfjord is depicted as a place where everybody, even the babies, smokes. Although during the narration there is a short scene where a baby is seen smoking, I think this is just an exaggeration when compared with the number of characters seen smoking in the progression of the series. Still, it is a bad news for Salmander who tries to stop smoking. The average age of its residents is higher than the living expectancy of many developing nations. There is only one person in town who holds the positions of a surgeon, dentist, midwife, tattoo artist and several other at the same time. The biggest job provider is Hellfish which exports fish and an illegal substance hidden in the fish to Oslo. The illegal substance bit is not part of the narration. The company is managed by Swedish businessman Bosse Nova (Thomas Hanzon). Bosse Nova says that Hellfish employs 60 percent of Hellfjord’s residents.  There are only 45 (later on 44) workers in Hellfish, so that means there are only 75 or so residents in Hellfjord?

Other major characters include irritating and random but hilarious local sheriff Kobba (Stig Fride Henriksen), his mail order bride from Finland Riina (Pihla Viitala), an ambitious but slightly dim-witted local journalist Johanne (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Salmander’s landlady Tante Kose (Maria Bock) – though in the Australian broadcast her name is translated as Auntie Cozy. Kobba says that Riina is actually sold as a bride as there was a potato shortage in northern Finland. Salmander initially stays at Kobba’s house (which is also the sheriff’s office). His room is just a furnished prison presumably on the basement of the house/office. Due to the need to sleep somewhere with a proper curtain during midsummer and a growing awkwardness between him and Kobba, Salmander asks Kobba to find him another place and he gets Tante Kose’s. Tante Kose is just as random as Kobba but her place is a tad better than the furnished prison. Personally, Henriksen and Bock deserve an award for their extreme makeovers.

Salmander’s real adventure in Hellfjord begins when he stumbles upon a dead Hellfish worker. The murder investigation leads him to Solvik prison as an undercover agent. His undercover is going well until the prison warden chokes himself to death while eating peanut. The new warden is not as friendly and when she contacts Kobba on Salmander’s mission, he denies any connection with Salmander. Meanwhile, the murdered worker’s counterparts plan a prison break and Salmander tags along. When Solvik prison becomes aware that they have escaped, a car chase ensues and leaves the counterparts dead. If it wasn’t for Johanne who suddenly appears after the car chase has ended, Salmander would have returned to Solvik prison. The investigation now puts Hellfish and Bosse Nova on the spotlight. As Salmander and his gang are about to raid Hellfish, he suddenly gets a call from the police commissioner in Oslo saying that his time is up and must return to Oslo immediately. The storyline becomes more absurd from there.

With absurd storyline comes absurd dialogues. For example, when Bosse Nova manages to stop Salmander and his gang from revealing Hellfish’s shoddy business during Salmander’s second return to Hellfjord, Bosse Nova says that Sweden always wins over Norway in sports. In other words, they shouldn’t expect him to be caught and tried because Norway can’t beat Sweden. Instead of lifting the spirit for the Norwegians, Kobba immediately replies that Sweden also outdoes Norway in Eurovision Song Contest (to date, Norway has come last in the Eurovision scoreboards 11 times).

Hellfjord is certainly not for everybody. Some people may not get the cultural references – I still don’t get Tante Kose’s remark on Canal+. Yes, it is funny but it is also packed with violence and some scenes that will leave you nauseous. Even yours truly can’t stand seeing some of the scenes and I do hope no real animals were harmed during the making of this series. I guess it is no wonder that the Australian broadcaster SBS put it on the 11.30pm timeslot when the series aired in late 2013.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.