Writers & Company·Nordic Imagination

The haunting world of Nordic noir, with Hans Rosenfeldt

Eleanor talks to the Swedish screenwriter and creator of the hit show The Bridge, in part one of a new series, Darkness and Light: The Nordic Imagination.
Swedish screenwriter and novelist Hans Rosenfeldt created the television series The Bridge, which has been remade and localised by several countries. (Eleanor Wachtel/CBC)

This week, Writers & Company launches a new special series, Darkness and Light: The Nordic Imagination. Eleanor Wachtel speaks with writers in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland to find out why the happiest region in the world produces such powerful, haunting work.   

To open the series, Eleanor went to Stockholm to meet a master of Nordic noir — the screenwriter and novelist Hans Rosenfeldt. He's the creator of the hit television crime series The Bridge, which has aired in more than 170 countries and inspired several international remakes. Set on the border between Denmark and Sweden, the show revolves around a Swedish detective and her Danish counterpart as they work to solve a string of violent crimes. The series reflects current social and political issues in the two countries, while playing with cultural differences — to both comic and moving effect.

Alongside The Bridge, Rosenfeldt is the creator of the British series Marcella, and co-author of five novels featuring the criminal psychologist Sebastian Bergman. The books have sold more than 3.5 million copies in 30 countries.

Mixed on metaphors 

"I'm really bad with metaphors and hidden meaning. I'm so glad the viewers of The Bridge make them up as they watch because it makes me look really clever, sometimes. When we produce, write and develop the show, we never really think about the bridge as a connection or as a border or a gate out into something bigger. It's just a story thing —  I think of it as a necessity to get a Swedish cop and a Danish cop to work together because that really never happens. Then we thought, 'if we put a body right on the border, they at least need to investigate it from both sides.' When I'm writing the Sebastian Bergman novels with a colleague, we never set out to say 'this is a story about human trafficking or refugees.' It kind of goes in there one way or the other. Since we're dealing with crime, you can't do that without actually commenting on society."         

Sofia Helin plays detective Saga Norén in the Swedish and Danish co-production, The Bridge. (Jens Juncker)

Natural crimes

"I started to read crime novels quite early. Crime stories in Sweden usually come quite naturally because we grow up with them. I've always been fascinated by them. The Bridge is especially larger than life — the perpetrators are like Bond villains that can get away with anything. It could look like we're just trying to kill people in the most sensational way; but there is a reason and thought behind it. In the Sebastian Bergman books, we try not to go into page after page of details of gore or blood. But the crimes in themselves are quite violent. This might sound a little bit weird or a bit sick, depending on who you are, but I kind of enjoy thinking about those stories. I'm sorry to say, but I just think it's fun."

The elusive Nordic noir

"I'm probably sounding very ungrateful but 'Nordic noir' doesn't really mean anything. It feels like everything coming out from the Nordic region is labeled 'Nordic noir.' But I think it has to do with a sense of loneliness — you get a feeling that there is a melancholy in the crime. It's a bit grey and gloomy and people are not really happy because happy people are quite boring. It usually comments on society and you get a feeling that it's based on the here and now. A lot of things go under the umbrella 'Nordic noir.' I think what crime fiction from Sweden does, both on television and in books, is to say, 'perhaps we aren't this kind of model society; perhaps there are cracks in this flawless place.' What crime writers show is that it's good, but it's not perfect and here's what's not working. When I look at 'Nordic noir' or think about my own writing, I think we're quite gloomy. Yes, we catch the bad guys, but there are plenty more out there and you're not going to catch them all."

Hans Rosenfeldt's comments have been edited and condensed.

Music to close the broadcast program: Hollow Talk by Choir of Young Believers.