In Order of Disappearance

Kraftidioten / Norway / 2014 / dir. Hans Petter Moland / 116 mins / crime & comedy / starring Stellan Skarsgård, Jakob Oftebro & Kristofer Hivju

Two Norwegian gangsters are sitting in a car, talking about snow. One of them sees a connection between the cold weather and the welfare state. You could never get people to go through the trouble of building a real civilization if everybody could just pluck a banana and eat it. ‘Snow or welfare’, he states. The untold irony is, of course, that historically, it has been exactly the other way. Civilizations developed in the fertile and warm subtropical zones, while the north was seen as too harsh and rugged to support people other than wild savages. The mountains and the snow made the Norwegians Vikings, not builders. The best parts of Hans Petter Moland’s morbid gangster-comedy In Order of Disappearance examines whether Norway really is truly civilized, or whether it’s just a varnish over a violent core.

Take the main character, Nils Dickman (Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgaard), for instance. He rides a snowblower for a living, claiming he helps keep civilization open. He was inspired by old books about ‘Indians’: ‘You might think of me as a pathfinder,’ he says in a speech after winning a prize for ‘Citizen of the year. ‘Even if I keep finding the same path again and again.’ This is a sad metaphor for attempts at upholding civilization: As soon as Nils removes the snow obstructing the roads, more will fall down. The metaphor becomes considerably more grim when Nils’ son Ingvar is murdered by cocaine-dealers, and Nils begins methodically murdering them one by one, until he sets his sight on a boss called ‘The Count’ (Pål Sverre Hagen, who played Thor Heyerdahl in the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki) As the bodycount rises, a rival Serbian gang gets involved as well, and soon the plotstrands converge into a climax, which feels inevitable but also fairly predictable. Plot-wise, the film is hardly more than a Norwegian Fargo or an update on the gangster-comedies Guy Ritchie used to make. It’s fun, but fans of the genre will probably feel a sense of deja-vu. For fans of Scandinavian cinema, on the other hand, there is a lot to gain in the incredible production design of the film.

I cannot overstate how brilliant the design of the film is. I was baffled as to where in Norway I could find the weird city, in which the gangsters live, and had to do some research. Reviewers has said Oslo, but also claimed that it had to be northern Norway. It is Oslo, but the establishing shots has been digitally manipulated, removing the old parts of the city, resulting in a skyline that rises out of the Norwegian snow as abruptly as a city like Abu Dhabi rises out of the Arabian sands. In the city, scenes mainly takes place among ultramodern buildings, not the squares of glass and steel as in America, but the curved angles and dark woods of modern Scandinavian architecture. In a scene, one of the gangsters leave a club directly into a dark winter street completely covered in snow and devoid of life, and is later murdered next to rows of rental bikes. What kind of madness is this? The Serbian gangsters are baffled by the weirdness of the Norwegian people as well, whose prisons are so humane they are something to look forward to, and where women put on plastic bags to pick up dog droppings in the street. The Count himself is a caricature of a modern man, drinking fresh-pressed juice and arguing over parental rights with his ex-wife (Dane Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, known from playing Katrine Fønsmark in Borgen), in between bouts of racist ranting and indiscriminate killing. In his understanding, his failures as a father and husband stems from his stressful job as a topleader in a competitive business, not from being an awful, violent human being.

With a script by Danish screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson and a Swedish leading man, the film is somewhat a pan-Scandinavian effort. It premiered in competition at Berlin, same place as Molland’s A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010), also with Skarsgaard and a script by Aakeson. In Order of Disappearance has been bought for distribution in the UK, France and Germany, among other territories, and while it’s not breaking any new ground in it’s genre of choice, it’s very much worth seeing for it’s snowfilled cinematography and sense of design, and as a satirical examination of modern Scandinavian society today. With plenty of blood as an added bonus.

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.