In Order of Disappearance

Hans Petter Moland
Release Year:
Kim Fupz Aakeson
Stellan Skarsgård, Bruno Ganz, Pål Sverre Hagen
Screening Date:
  • 3 Jan 2017
  • Categories:
    Action, Comedy, Crime

    Stellan Skarsgard plays the honorable citizen Nils, who ploughs snow in the wild winter mountains of Norway. An incident ignites a war between the vegan gangster "the Count" and the Serbian mafia boss “Papa”, and Nils takes action.

    Film Notes

    After Scandi-noir comes Scandi-blanc, with this snow blinded black comedy about a plough-driver wreaking revenge upon the drug dealers who killed his son. Stellan Skarsgård is Nils Dickman, the stoical Swedish path-clearer who wins a citizen of the year award in Norway (“You’re the most Norwegian person around without actually being Norwegian”) shortly before embarking upon his shambolic killing spree. With its mournful chiming musical score and recurrent end-of-scene slo-mo trope, this has all the makings of an angsty nihilistic thriller. But as the original Norwegian title Kraftidioten (“the prize idiot”) implies, the tone is altogether more absurdist, offering a morbidly wry twist on the traditional Death Wish riff, firmly anchored by Skarsgård’s deadpan, hangdog expression. As the bodies pile up, so do the nods to the Coens and Tarantino, violent death becoming a laughing matter. Yet while it’s hard not to trace the icy bloodletting and gangster banter back to American cinema, the frostiness of Skarsgård’s performance remains resolutely Scandinavian.
    Mark Kermode, Observer, 14 September 2014
    In rural Norway, beneath a pristine quilt of snow, murky business is afoot. Who better to uncover it than the man with the biggest snow plough in town? Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) is a straightforward chap: a husband, a father, the stoic owner-operator of a successful road-clearing business, and his adopted home town’s Citizen of the Year. When we first meet him, he’s chugging through a mountain pass, with a shimmering plume of ice crystals arcing up behind him and into the midday sky. In Order of Disappearance, a bruisingly black comic thriller from Norway’s Hans Petter Moland, could hardly have been staged on any other landscape: the story it tells is one of frozen souls, covered tracks, and the quick bloom of blood on snow. There are hairpin tonal changes here that would send less self-assured directors spinning off course – one minute, the film’s swinging loonily from the gallows, Coen brothers-style, the next it’s plummeting down a shaft of Nordic noir. But in Moland’s hands it just about holds the road, and Skarsgård, in his fourth film with the director, makes the sixpence turns look effortless. Early in the film, Nils’s son Ingvar, a baggage handler at the nearby airport, gets mixed up in a drug-trafficking operation, and he’s discovered dead the following morning with heroin in his veins. Refusing to believe Ingvar was an addict, Nils sets out to find the truth, which draws him into an almost cartoonish underworld of spivs and scumbags, all in the employ of Pål Sverre Hagen’s flamboyant kingpin, The Count. (Every baddie goes by a nickname that’s perhaps a shade less menacing than they think: others include Rodrigo, The Chinaman and Strike.) On paper, it all sounds a touch Death Wish, but while the violence is strong, it’s the stark lack of sensationalism that makes you wince. An episode of domestic violence is plainly framed; the strangling of a cocaine dealer dwells on banal details like his jerking feet. Each villain’s demise is marked by an on-screen death notice underneath the symbol of their chosen faith: a sombrely funny flourish. The writer, Kim Fupz Aakeson, channels early Tarantino perhaps a little too keenly, but when those off-topic circumlocutions work, they work, and a lengthy exchange about Scandinavian welfare states is a memorable, and irrelevant, high-point. You’ve seen almost everything here before, but never within the same film.
    Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, 11th September 2014.
    Stellan Skarsgård plays a mild-mannered snowplough driver who stacks up a formidable body count while avenging the murder of his son in Hans Petter Moland’s deadpan bloodbath. There hasn’t been this much blood spilled in a frigid, snowbound landscape -- especially with this much droll, dark humor -- since the Coen Brothers fed a hapless Steve Buscemi into a wood chipper in Fargo. A vigorously plotted revenge saga about an aggrieved father who almost singlehandedly turns the icy mountainsides and fjords of small-town Norway into a criminal graveyard, In Order of Disappearance provides a wonderful vehicle for Stellan Skarsgård’s stone-faced gravitas and calm intelligence. It also marks a cracking new chapter in the actor’s collaboration with director Hans Petter Moland, which began in 1995 with Zero Kelvin. Already a brisk seller to international markets, the superbly directed film seems a safe bet to be snapped up for U.S. distribution, and a deal for remake rights surely won’t be far behind. While it’s being somewhat reductively billed as an “action comedy,” this is actually a much more subtle mix of contrasting tones, shifting fluidly from devastating family tragedy to pitiless violence to sharp observational and social humor, all wrapped up in a vivid sense of place. A very cold place. Skarsgård and Moland last teamed on 2010’s A Somewhat Gentle Man, which might almost be an ironic description of Nils Dickman, a Swedish transplant whom we first meet being courted to run for political office in the Farmers Centrist Party and honored as Citizen of the Year. In his acceptance speech he talks with humility of being a pathfinder, clearing a way through the wilderness for his fellow townsfolk via his job driving a massive snow-blower truck around the municipal roads in winter. Nils’ path takes an unexpected detour when his grown son inadvertently gets in the way of a drug dispute and turns up dead, shot full of heroin. Cops write it off as another case of “young people destroying themselves,” a version that Nils’ wife Gudrun (Hildegard Riise) accepts. Her grief and guilt over the discovery that she didn’t know her son causes the marriage to fall apart. But Nils is convinced their son was no junkie. Moland and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson immediately let us know we’re in capable hands with the crisp economy of this setup, and Skarsgård is no less precise in showing us exactly what kind of man Nils is. The brisk early action benefits enormously from unsentimental handling of scenes in which he and Gudrun get news of their son’s death, their subsequent trip to the morgue to identify the body, and the funeral, which takes place under a heavy snowfall in countryside thickly blanketed in white. But all the while a brooding sense is building that Nils is not going to stoically put this behind him. He abandons his initial drastic course of action when he encounters his son’s terrified friend Finn (Tobias Santelmann), whose stupidity led to the killing. Nils gets the name of Finn’s drug contact, and thanks to the modern marvel of smartphone contact lists, he soon establishes a trail leading all the way to Greven, known as “The Count” (Pal Sverre Hagen). The oily criminal scion has been peaceably splitting territories with the Serbian Mafia, led by Papa (Bruno Ganz). But when disappearances start mounting up, with blame being wrongly attributed, a crime war ignites. Moland’s tongue is planted firmly in his cheek, as demonstrated by the death notices that punctuate the action, with a black screen bearing the deceased’s birth name, crime alias and a symbol denoting religion – chiefly Christian or Serbian Orthodox, but with the odd Jew or atheist thrown in. But there’s a transfixing solemnity underlying the black comedy. That makes it far more compelling than just another assembly line of murder en route to an inevitable final showdown among all the various factions. Those formulaic elements are here, make no mistake, but the wit of the screenplay and the actors’ characterizations ensure that it's highly entertaining, giving the film a distinctive personality. That extends also to Jorgen Stangebye Larsen’s production design. The Count and Papa each get a priceless milieu that echoes who they are, the former favoring high-end, low-taste modern décor that mixes minimalism with hideous statement pieces, while the latter hunkers down with his henchmen in a dimly lit room of dusty chandeliers and heavy rugs. The Count is the epitome of pretentious Eurotrash with his skinny suits, topknot ponytail and vegan diet. He’s ruthless but also given to infantile petulance, particularly when clashing with his disgusted Danish ex-wife (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) over custody issues. “It’s not always easy being me,” he moans pathetically. The character borders on caricature but for the most part deliciously so. As Greven’s gloomy Serbian counterpart, Ganz is a whole other breed of old-school gangster, though no less amusing, his voice such a hoarse rasp he sometimes requires an interpreter. The film sacrifices some of its tautness as all the various threats converge, and could perhaps stand to be tightened by ten minutes or so. Also, the women characters are not given enough of a stake. But since much is made of Nils’ surname and related ideas of masculinity, fatherhood and fraternal codes, it might have been unrealistic to expect otherwise. None of their roles are exactly substantial, but there are rich character nuances among the goons on both sides (the stupendously bearded Kristofer Hivju from Game of Thrones among them), and an interesting addition in Nils’ estranged brother (Peter Andersson), whose shady past comes into play. Running through the script are some very funny exchanges – among cops, Norwegian drug thugs, Serbians, regular townsfolk – that poke wry fun at the insular nature of life in the snowy sticks, attitudes toward foreigners, and the virtues of the Scandinavian welfare state. Nowhere is this more hilarious than when a Central European career criminal marvels at the comforts of a Norwegian prison – good meals, dental coverage, pension contributions for work, pleasant guards and no rape! Binding all this together into a unifying tone is Skarsgård’s rivetingly contained performance as a quiet man pushed to extremes by his almost biblical sense of justice and retribution. “A father must avenge his son,” he says with deadly seriousness. But Nils also shows innate compassion in his paternal scenes with Greven’s young son. Unlike many films in which good men are driven by violence against their children to take brutal measures, Nils has set himself a task, and he performs it with methodical focus and minimal burdened glowering (see Hugh Jackman, Prisoners). The film looks aces, with Philip Ogaard’s unfussy camerawork letting the imposing landscape speak for itself. The score by Kaspar Kaae and Kare Vestrheim effectively uses acoustic guitar elements to lend the faintest suggestion of a Western flavour to the action. Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition).
    David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter, 10th February 2014

    What you thought about In Order of Disappearance

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    28 (36%) 32 (41%) 12 (15%) 3 (4%) 3 (4%)
    Total Number of Responses: 78
    Film Score (0-5): 4.01

    Collated Response Comments

    123 members and guests attended this screening, 64% of you completed the comments slips. There were so many good comments about The Disappearance that I have put the full report is on the website. This is a shortened version. The references to others film makers work made by the professional reviewers found their way into many of your comments, and you also made some quite clever puns; giving the film a different title and playing with the fact that the film was set in Norway. One observer quoting other influences said that it was “not so much Tarantino… apart from some of the dialogue – and in any case better done, less knowing”. This reviewer also felt “the humour… more like Truffaut’s, Don’t Shoot the Pianist or Fargo… also a bit of Blue Collar and Point Blank and a big Leone finish. But in the end its own film. Excellent.” Another told us that “although definitely influenced by the Coens and Tarrantino, it lacked the characterisation and the storytelling that they bring to their work. A few moments of black humour stopped it from being very poor”. Other film references kept coming with “wonderful – Straw dogs meets Scandi Noir. I loved it”, “Brilliant! OK Corral meets Reservoir Dogs meets Wallander?” “Very Kill Bill. Stylised violence and humour so well plaited together”. “Sergio Leone comes to Lapland. Crazy movie, but entertaining”, A bit like the Godfather and High Noon combined!” “Better than Tarrantino. Dry humour. Excellent psychopath character as The Count”. Some thought this film was “brilliant”, others “loved it – music – the whole bit, finishing with a Leone homage by calling it “A Fistful of Krona.”. Many “loved the scenery….and the snow machine” but did not “love the details of the murders – although “appreciating the humorous moments in macabre situations”. One of you wrote that the movie resonated a “dark twisted humour with stellar performances and the violence against the pristine wilderness added to the atmosphere”. But there were numerous comments that identified the poor execution of the subtitling process with “you can’t go wrong with Stellan Skarsgård. Pity about the subtitles”, “enjoyed the Black humour in the white landscape!”, “Great cowboy film! Shame the subtitles were white. (Scandi – blanc?)”. Not everyone agreed and said that in their opinion there was “too much gratuitous violence, not good for Norwegian Hygge (It means a state of lovely cosiness).”, “ Did they run out of actors?”, “tedious and monotonous”, “once you got the plot there were no surprises. I don’t think there was much original thinking in it. Having said that it was a reasonable 2 hour romp”. And one of you “loved David Beckham as The Count”. Many found it “riveting…everything you should get from a first rate thriller” and thought it “dark, violent, funny”...with good pace”, and “never thought I would find serial murders so entertaining”. A Strictly fan said, “In the words of the great Craig Revel Horwood, fab-u-lous darling”. And another told us that it was “Wonderful! Blackest, funniest comedy. Loved the soundtrack – how the various grating/scraping sounds fed into each other. Landscape wonderful – its Norway! Could watch it again and again!” Other comments are listed here. “..That’s what I call a feel good film”, “sometimes difficult to follow...bad subtitles on white snow!”, “best so far. Lend it to the BBC”, “Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved the photography, scenery, dark humour and the music. Memorial crosses inspired!!” “Infinitely better than Kiera BTW”, “very good. Had me on the edge of my seat all the way through”, Excellent – gripping story. Emotional content spiked with the right amount of humour”, “not quite what I was expecting!! Very Nor/Swe! Great soundtrack. I liked the black humour – deadpan expression – death notices – at least I could keep track of who had been killed”. “A son for a son in the end”, “good though not really my sort of film – don’t really like violence used as entertainment. Very Coen though!”, “I would never have chosen this had it not been for GFS, but I am very glad you picked it. Intriguing, surprising and funny”, “good taut crime drama nicely punctuated with moments of noir humour”, “well-made but I felt ashamed that so much skill should be used to seduce me into sharing the morals of the fictitious characters”, “enjoyable, witty, absorbing….a bit macabre, but no regretted deaths”, , “well played but rather predictable. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the very dark humour”, “twisted morality tale – the worst baddies lost. Jolly well-made though – great cinematography. Very Coen. Thoroughly enjoyable”, “Boring, vulgar, gratuitous violence – if that’s humour, count me out”, “didn’t sustain the pace. Not sue it what it wanted to be. Tarantino does it better”, “engrossing quest. Appealing to all our basest instincts. Nice line in chairs too”, “lacked credible character development”, “good acting made up for a poor story”, “quite the worst film you have shown as far as I am concerned. Not helped by the difficulty in reading the subtitles. Not clear to me most of the time who was on whose side and what they were trying to achieve”, “boring – stupidly violent –who cares!”, “a horrible film. Both boring and brutal. No human interest really. The moments of humour just jarred. The photography and scenery redeem it from the lowest category”.

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