Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Bridge (Bron)(Broen)/The Tunnel/The Bridge

The Bridge (2011-2018) (Danish: Broen; Swedish: Bron) (Sweden, Denmark) Here is a story with a fascinating history, including two remakes in different settings.*

We begin with this one, the original, kicked off by the murder of a women (that’s not a typo; wait for it.). The body is left exactly on the line between Denmark and Sweden on the Øresund, if you’re Swedish, or Öresund, if you’re Danish, bridge. (It is actually a bridge-tunnel, five miles above ground and two and a half under.) Who has jurisdiction? The Danish cop, Martin Rodhe, is happy to let the Swede, Saga Norén, have it. But when the ambulance crew try to lift her, she comes apart. It turns out to be two different women, dismembered and shoved back together. The upper half is an important Swedish politician, and the lower half is a Danish prostitute who vanished seven months ago. It is clear that someone has some points to make, and it gets even more bizarre from there. Bizarre in a fascinating way, I’m quick to add. There will be many more bodies, and many more points made before the psychopathic murderer is found.

The story is fine, though of course wildly improbable. No one has ever lived who possesses all the talents, time, and money to pull off the stunts he achieves. But Hannibal Lecter is quite improbable, too, and I love him as a character. We’re not talking real life here, we’re talking thriller. And he is a genius, staying one or two steps ahead of the law all through the series.

But the real treat here is in the main characters, and the relationship that develops between them. Martin, the Dane, (Kim Bodnia) has an unusual household that includes his third wife, a woman of color, and several children underfoot, including his angry eighteen-year-old layabout son who can’t be pried from his computer to help out around the house. Martin has just had a vasectomy, which leads to several good jokes, and one very painful kick in the balls. It’s all fairly standard stuff, but well done. Martin is a likeable character.

The real genius on display here, though, is in the character of Saga, played wonderfully by Sofia Helin. She is not a very likeable character, though she is not in any way vicious or mean or hateful. She just simply hasn’t got a clue. What she is, is a woman with Asperger’s, though the word is never used. She is hopeless in social situations, can’t read expressions, doesn’t understand irony or sarcasm or jokes, is always straight ahead, by the book. She reminded me in a way of Noomi Rapace playing Lisbeth Salander in the wonderful The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. There is no warmth in her, but no evil. She just doesn’t get it. She knows that about herself, and works to overcome her coldness, but it’s not easy. An example: whenever she answers her phone or meets someone she announces “Saga Norén, Malmö County Police.” Every time. And if you are there in the flesh, she reaches forward and grasps your hand aggressively. It is clear that this is something she has made herself do without understanding why people do it. It is super awkward, and very endearing. She is trying so hard. She learns a few things as the series gets on.

There are four seasons, and as I write this we have seen only the first three. Luckily, the library has them on DVD. The fourth series concluded on May 11, 2018 in the UK (it is 7/12/18 as I write this), so we hope to see that one soon. This series was a massive and surprise hit in the UK, making Sofia Helin a big star! Everyone, including Sofia Helin, had expected that no one would like Saga Norén, but she was loved by everyone, including Lee and myself. The Brits liked it so much that they remade it, entitled …

The Tunnel (2013-2017) (UK, France) This is a re-make of the Danish-Swedish TV series The Bridge, AKA Bron, AKA Broen. There are several possible bridges they could have used in the UK, including the Tower Bridge in London and the massive Firth of Forth bridge in Edinburgh. In France there are the famous bridges over the Seine and, I assume, many others. But none of them span two cultures, like the Øresund or Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. So in a stroke of genius they moved the story to the Channel Tunnel, one of the modern engineering wonders of the world. The production was granted unprecedented access to the tunnel, which runs thirty miles under the English Channel, linking Folkestone and Dover to Calais. It is rail-only, no one gets to drive through it. Automobiles and freight lorries (in one direction) and voitures and camions (in the other direction) are loaded onto huge double-decker trains that go nowhere else but through the tunnel. The trip takes thirty-five minutes, vs. ninety for the ferry.

As in the original, parts of the bodies of two women are found joined together exactly on the line between England and France. As in the other, there is a culture clash, with straight arrow, Asperger’s Syndrome Elise Wassermann, played brilliantly by Clémence Poésy, being forced to work with the much more laid back DCI Karl Roebuck, played by Stephen Dillane, who I recognized as the monstrous Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones, who burned his daughter alive for the chance to sit on the Iron Throne. (Didn’t do him a bit of good, I’m happy to say. Stannis died bloody and alone in the snow. He had plenty of time to sit there and contemplate what a monster he became before he burned that sweet little child. Then his head was chopped off by Brienne of Tarth. Good riddance.)

In some ways I liked this version even better than the original. There have been some changes made, some minor plot points and a few major ones, mostly to pump it up, make it more violent and larger. But none of it hurts the story. Most of the sets are larger and more dramatic. But it’s a very close thing. In some ways I liked the original better.

The main thing one will probably consider in comparing the series revolves around the female detective. Both men who play Martin/Karl do a fine job, but the fascinating character is Saga/Elise. This is also a very close one. My choice as the best, in a photo finish, is Sofia Helin. This isn’t to take anything away from Ms. Poésy. And some days, they finish in reverse order.

A note on culture clashes. In this one there are problems associated with English and French languages. They frequently don’t understand each other, as not everyone is bilingual. In the original, it was usually very hard for me to know if something was happening in Sweden or in Denmark. No one seems to have any trouble communicating. Yet in the DVD extras much is made of the cultural differences between the two countries. I looked into it, and it seems the Swedes and Danes are usually able to makes themselves understood to each other. The languages are different, but have many of the same roots and even the same words, and thus are much closer to each other than English is to French. I know I missed a lot of things because I never had the slightest idea who was speaking what language. Did the Danes talk Swedish, or vice versa? I hadn’t a clue. I doubt any English speaker would. It’s all Dutch to me.

The Bridge (2013-2014) When it was decided to make an American version of this story, there was the matter of picking a bridge. Canada was considered, in particular the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, which I crossed a hundred times in 1965 when I was working in the Motor City. (Back then, they just waved you across in moth directions. Can you believe it?) Bad idea. The whole thrust of these of these stories concerns culture clashes, and though of course there are some differences between Yanks and Canucks, they consist mostly of some pronunciations, the fact that they have prettier money, and … actually, I can’t really think of any more. If you want Toronto to stand in for Minneapolis, for instance, all you really need to do is change the license plates on the cars. Trust me, I observed this while making Millennium.

But Mexico! There’s a culture clash. Far deeper than between Denmark and Sweden or France and the UK. It is a border between the richest nation in history and a third world country that had enough problems to begin with, but now has been devastated by America’s insane War on Drugs. Cuidad Juárez, separated from El Paso by just a ditch and a lot of fencing, has been hit harder than any other city. The busiest crossing, which looks like a traffic nightmare, is the Bridge of the Americas. On one side, a town that has around ten murders a year and an honest police force. On the other, a police force almost totally controlled by the various warring cartels, which has … no one knows just how many murders, because a lot of the victims just vanish.

This is fertile ground for this story. Diane Kruger is Sonya Cross, the straight-arrow by-the-book El Paso cop. Demián Bichir is Marco Ruiz, one of the only Chihuahua State Police officers in Juárez who is not corrupt … but he has to make a lot of accommodations, not upset the powers that be too much, and he is willing to bend the rules. The contrasts between the two sides of the bridge couldn’t be more stark. The series ran for two seasons, and we were sorry that it wasn’t picked up for a third, even though I’d have to say that this is the weakest of the three versions. Though not by very much.

That is probably because Diane Kruger is the weakest of the Saga/Elise/Sonya trio. Not that she is bad at all, and part of the blame lies with the writers, who couldn’t stop themselves from softening her up, making her a little less distant, a little more apt to smile. That’s not want I want in this part. I want Saga’s endless puzzlement at the things people do, I want her unintentionally brutal honesty and her inability to completely join the human race. Ironically, I think Bichir may be the strongest of the three male leads, though he does have an annoying tendency to speak in a loud whisper. Usually I would hate that, but somehow he makes it work.

I was astonished to learn that English is not Diane Kruger’s first language. It’s not her second, either. It’s her third. She is German, fluent in French, and speaks English without a trace of an accent. After learning this we just had to see her in a German picture, and watched In the Fade, which was a bit of a disappointment, though not because of her.

* There was actually a fourth edition of this same story: (Moct in Russian; Sild in Estonian) centering on the Friendship Bridge between Narva in Estonia and Ivangorod in Russia. Somehow I feel the word “Friendship” is more a fond hope than a reality. Estonians have no love for the Russians, and deeply resent 46 years of being shit on by the Soviet Union. I looked it up on Google, and there don’t appear to be any long lines to cross the border. It was broadcast in 2018 and I would really like to watch this series, but it’s not available anywhere. So far.