Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ + ½ 

Categorisation: Detective drama

Availability: Netflix – Finnish, subtitled

Plot: Anna Bergdahl, a social worker-turned consultant, is found buried on a construction site in Helsinki. Wrapped in plastic she is naked, pale and serene, with a bunch of white canna lilies carefully positioned in her hands. Recently widowed senior detective Sofia Karppi, is investigating. She has returned from Germany where she lived with her husband, until an accident claimed his life only two months before. After his death, with her young son and teenage step-daughter in tow, they move to Finland, Karppi’s home country. It is immediately clear that they all struggle to adapt to their new life. They grieve in their various ways and family relationships are strained, particularly as Karppi becomes increasingly unavailable, throwing herself obsessively into her work. Unconventional, confident and capable, she has her own ways of doing things. And she certainly doesn’t appreciate having to partner with Sakari Nurmi, the rookie detective who has recently been assigned to the homicide squad. Nurmi wants to interrogate Anna’s husband, but Karppi is not in the right head-space to blame a widower, believing there are broader criminal forces at play. As the series unfolds, the many strands of the investigation creates tension and dispute, while Karppi’s life at home unravels

Cast: Pihla Viitala does a great job playing Karppi. Strong in the midst of heartbreak, she is the epitome of sisu – she has guts. She is fearless, yet vulnerable, and Viitala does well across this emotional range. Lauri Tilkanen does an equally good job as Nurmi, and there is a terrific chemistry between the two as they variously spar with each other, then provide comfort at times of distress. The rest of the cast is excellent too, particularly Jani Volanen as Usko, Anna’s husband. Somehow he manages to look guilty and innocent at the same time. Tommi Korpela is very good as Alex, the science entrepreneur whose wind farm plans for the construction site where Anna’s body is found, also place him under suspicion.

Filming and setting: Created and directed by Rike Jokela, the series was filmed during the fierce Finnish winter. And like many contemporary thrillers (see for example, The Dry; and, of course, Fargo, the bleak and beautiful landscapes in Deadwind do their best to engage an emotional response – tall leafless trees surviving across the stretches of flat snow-covered land, massive shards of fractured ice in the lake – the cinematography communicates messages. This is a harsh environment, and one that becomes a defining character in itself.

Personal Comments:  Deadwind is a solid crime series that has a satisfying feel to it, perhaps because it follows familiar Scandi-noir territory. One might say it’s predictable. It doesn’t make you gasp, nor does it have you on the edge of your seat. But if you like a darkly humoured, slow-burning series that develops its characters over many levels of sub-plot, then you might like this one. I did, and will certainly be watching the second series. 

Atiye – The Gift

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Supernatural mystery thriller

Availability:  Netflix

Plot:  Atiye was written by Jason George and Nuran Evren Şit, based on the Turkish novel Dünyanın Uyanışı by Şengül Boybaş. The series begins with a funeral. While mourners grieve at the graveside of Atiye, the main character, she emerges from the woods, bloodied and very much the worse for wear. It’s a powerful start, foreshadowing the supernatural elements that rest at the heart of the series. Erhan, a young handsome archaeologist, discovers a mysterious symbol at Göbeklitepe, a magnificent Neolithic Turkish site. We then find that Atiye, a successful young artist, has been obsessively painting the symbol for years, a subject that is now the main theme of her work. Atiye is about to marry her long-term lover, Ozan, but the discovery of the symbol creates a deep need in Atiye to see the ancient markings for herself and to delve into the symbol’s meaning for her. She then embarks on a perilous journey of discovery that takes her into the realm of the supernatural, and also the real-life dangers of investigating the past.

Cast: There is some good acting in Atiye, but the laboured screenplay makes it difficult for the cast to show their abilities, often resulting in exaggerated performances. Atiye’s father, played by Civan Canove does well though, and Melisa Senolsun brings life to the role of Atiye’s sister Cansu.

Filming and setting: The series shows some breathtakingly beautiful sunsets, and the sweeping landscapes are gorgeous. It is filmed across locations in Turkey, and its particularly interesting to see the magnificent archaeological site of Göbeklitepe.

Personal Comments: I need to confess – I have never warmed to science fiction, nor to supernatural dramas. But Atiye has an intriguing storyline, and given the wonderful Turkish productions I’ve seen this year (see, for example, Ethos, I thought I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, while imaginatively compelling in places, and unquestionably filmed in stunning locations, it ends up a two-star series. With poor writing and a melodramatic screenplay, the series never reaches its potential, sadly remaining within the realm of soap opera.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: documentary 

Availability: Local cinemas in NZ, and online at RNZ:

Storyline: Aotearoa has a unique form of biodiversity with birds that are vulnerable to attacks from introduced mammals – rats, stoats, possums and other predators that are having a devastating impact on New Zealand’s wildlife. This half hour documentary is about the perilous existence of the koroā, New Zealand’s little blue penguin, and the inspiring people who work tirelessly to protect them in Horomaka Banks Peninsula. While Flea Bay locals, Shireen and Francis Helps, have been working to support the penguins for decades and advancing their conservation work through the Pohatu Penguins business, it was the recent decision to replicate the 2001-02 Department of Conservation ground survey that brought the local community together in an ambitious and quite remarkable conservation effort that is captured in this uplifting short film. 

Filming and setting: Not surprisingly given the film’s location in the beautiful Horomaka, the scenery is spectacular. And of course, the penguins are seriously cute, despite the fact that they smell terrible, bite, and defecate everywhere. But the film illustrates they have won the hearts of the volunteer army and, I expect, the hearts of people who get to see this film.

Cast:  It is impossible not to warm to everyone as they go about the business of protecting the penguins. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and the joy they experience when trapping rodents is compelling, it almost makes you want to get out there and volunteer. But it is Averil Parthonnaud who steals the show, as she mobilises people – school children, volunteers, professionals…even Kevin her husband (Manager of Pohatu Penguins). Everyone is engaged by her tremendous drive and passion. 

Personal Comments:  Kororā is the second short documentary to emerge from conservation efforts in Horomaka. Last year the equally inspiring short film, Fools and Dreamers, showcased the wonderful work of Hugh Wilson at the Hinewai nature reserve (see ). New Zealand has a bold vision to make Aotearoa predator-free by 2050, and is putting serious resources into the eradication of these lethal pests. But it is the leadership efforts of people like Averil, Kevin, Shireen, Francis and Hugh – and everyone who works alongside them – that ultimately illustrates what is possible when people unite to achieve a common aim. Go and see this film if you can, and be inspired.   

Fargo, series 3

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Coenesque drama

Availability:  Netflix

Plot: Inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliant 1990s film, Fargo, Noah Hawley’s third darkly comedic miniseries of the same name introduces us to Minnesotan brothers, Ray and Emmit Stussy. The brothers are in dispute. Following their father’s death Ray inherited a stamp – a very valuable stamp it turns out, and Emmit inherited a bright and shiny red Corvette. But Emmit convinces Ray to do a swap. Then, using the stamp as collateral, he becomes a successful businessman, while his brother’s life is afflicted by misfortune. The Corvette is now tired and faded, and Ray is a probation officer who spends most of his time collecting urine specimens from his parolees. He bitterly resents the loss of his true inheritance, and increasingly obsessed by perceptions of injustice, he goes about getting the stamp back. To everyone’s dismay, and in true Coenesque fashion, plans go spectacularly wrong and the bodies start piling up. But this isn’t just a series about feuding brothers. It’s a bigger story about good and evil, with multi-layered representations of extreme capitalism rotting from within, weighty biblical forces, and existential questions that plague the characters in one way or another. 

Cast: Fargo has a wonderful cast making it difficult to single out its most outstanding actors. Ewan McGregor is terrific playing the two brothers, displaying a range of emotions as the worlds of both characters unravel. David Thewlis is brilliant as V.M. Varga. He is the archetypal representation of evil in the series as we watch him take control of Emmit’s business. By all accounts he is a truly nasty character, his bad teeth and bulimic tendencies horribly depicting the excesses of a modern capitalist society. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is outstanding as Nikki Swango, the ultimate avenging angel (and fiancée of Ray). She is guided by the omniscient supernatural character Paul Marrane (well played by Ray Wise), who appears to a number of characters, variously offering support, redemption or damnation. Gloria Burgle, chief of police in Eden Valley, and played splendidly by Carrie Coon, is the personification of goodness. Even though she has her own challenges, she provides a countering warmth and sense of normality that tips the scales toward the good. 

Filming and setting: Fargo is beautifully filmed, capturing the stark beauty of Minnesota in wintertime. In fact, it was filmed in the Canadian province of Southern Alberta, but no matter. It represents perfectly the flat, snow-covered landscape with its vast bleak horizons that seem to go on forever.

Personal Comments: This was my first viewing of a Fargo miniseries, a neglect that was deliberate. The original film by the Coen brothers was so riveting and their take on the Minnesota underworld so compelling, I could not imagine a TV sequel that could do justice to it. Fargo 3 has also had mixed reviews, suggesting that Hawley had lost the plot as he delves incoherently into philosophical dilemmas. But for me, it is a masterclass of film-making – unsettling yet satisfying, comedic yet gruesome, and with allegorical depth that is exposed by one complex conversation after another. It has a haunting brilliance that will keep academics and students of film studies debating for decades.