In 1986 Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot dead in Stockholm. Over 130 people have confessed to the murder, but the only man convicted has since been acquitted on appeal. Roland Hassel is a film about an investigation into this assassination. There is a hi-concept conceit though – it is filmed as a 1980s cop drama, with a Swedish TV detective looking into the case. Roland Hassel is the name of the detective, who is played by the same actor who played him when he was on TV in the Eighties.
For the Swedish this is something akin to sending in Inspector Morse to investigate the disappearance of Lord Lucan. It has the potential to be a witty means to re-examine the facts. Although the cast use mobile phones and video cameras the images are suitably degraded, like Hi-8 copies of 16mm films. Using fiction to investigate fact could have been interesting, but there is little back story for people who do not know much about Swedish history. And the images we do see are not gripping. The film starts with closeups of men in a beige meeting room discussing a new type of gas mask. We don’t see wide shots to set the scene, we bounce from one man to another as they state their views about the new mask. One tries it on. Then we move to a gym where three men reenact the Palme shooting, one clapping his hands to signify the gun shots and the others falling over as though they have been shot. Then they have a discussion and reenact it again. We are not given any facts, we just hear them discuss a few arcane points among themselves. One mentions how he would like to reenact the whole assassination on location. One visits a lawyer and finds out that the statute of limitations has been lifted on this crime, meaning that the investigation is still open. He complains that the $8m reward first offered years ago should have been index-linked.
You might have gathered from this brief synopsis that Roland Hassel is not in my opinion going to break many box office records. Not having seen any of the Swedish TV series I can’t comment on whether the film utilises amusing tropes from the original TV series. Eyeballs unacquainted with Swedish TV will find it hard to maintain interest until the end. The episodes are shot like a police record, nothing is visually appealing. Nothing is discovered from the reenactments, no theory is examined and found wanting. No suspects are named. The only person who is looked at remotely suspiciously is the wife of the prime minister who was walking with him when he was shot.
Visually unexciting, the script also is far from absorbing. It appears the director has made the film he intended but if you are interested in all the ins and outs of the assassination, you will learn nothing new. If you are were not interested before, you will not be inspired to move to Stockholm and try and solve the case yourself. You might be inspired to type ‘Olof Palme’ into Google – and you will immediately find out much more than you learned in the film.
One way this film can be seen more positively is as a device to show that TV is not the way to solve problems. As we watch we realise that TV is not as powerful as we think, that the machinations of TV may sound good, but ultimately they get nowhere. Using the Palme case as an example the director is laughing at any idea that TV can help. Yet this view is rendered erroneous when the UK TV programme Crimewatch is considered. It does help solve crimes with reenactments.
I think it is unlikely you will come out of Roland Hassel desperate to phone your friends and recommend they drop what they are doing and rush to the cinema to see it. I may be wrong though – if you like it please leave a comment below.