The coming couple of weeks or so we will have a look at the amazing world of the Finnish mystery/action/thriller film series Vares. The first one, which will be discussed today, was released in 2004, while the latest one (Sheriffi) made it to the theaters as late as 2015.
Vares is a film series that probably hasn’t had much of a market outside of its native Finland. This is a shame, since several of the entries are of quite high quality, and the vast majority is supremely entertaining in one way or another. The movies are based on a series of books by author Reijo Mäki, and centred around the private detective Jussi Valtteri Vares, his drinking, womanizing and occasional heroic crime solving (which occurs approximately once per movie). While this may sound very much like your average Scandinavian crime/thriller series, there is often a bit more to it than that.
The first film is perhaps also the best examples of what that “more” is or can be.
Vares – Yksityisetsivä (2004)
Vares – Yksityisetsivä (Vares – Private Eye) marks the first appearance of private detective Jussi Vares on the big screen. This reviewer has not read the books upon which this and the numerous sequels are based, but there is ample reason to believe the film deviates somewhat from the original concept. While the Vares character has been made famous in later years mainly by actor Antti Reini, in the first two installments he’s played by Juha Veijonen, otherwise known for among other things his part in the absolutely brilliant Häjyt (The Tough Ones, 1999).
Yksityisetsivä uses first person narration to introduce and further its story, which makes perfect sense: this is a private eye film, after all. Following an action packed introduction we get to know mr. Vares, and get an overall picture of a man down on his luck, with the ladies, and otherwise. Of course, the pace picks up quite quickly, as Jussi chooses to chase after a woman he rightly believes to be in trouble. From there on out, you just have to strap yourself in, for the plot is complex, action packed and presented in a rather interesting way.
Nordic crime flicks based on books are a dime a dozen. Prime examples are Sweden’s Beck and Wallander series, not to mention the so called Millenium triology, which spawned the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) North American remake. It’s easy to imagine Vares falling into that same category – middle aged men of a dimly liberal-yet-cynical world view who talk or shoot their way through whatever depressing aspect of Scandinavian society the director has seen fit to depict or invent. While there’s plenty of social realist elements (mainly heavy drinking and other references to Finnish cultural stereotypes – in a good way), Yksityisetsivä does things very differently.
First of all, there are obvious influences to be found of early Tarantino (remember when his films were fun?) and Guy Richie. Characters freeze the frame when first introduced, and a brief blurb introduces them, a couple of key aspects on them, and their personal motto. Violence is sudden and at times comedic.
And that’s another thing, Yksityisetsivä is heavy on the comedy. While often very dark, and seldom slap-stick, the humor is almost always there. Many of the bad-guys are deliberately over the top. The head villain is similar to Gary Oldman’s raving chief of police in Léon: The professional (1994), and two of his enforcers haunt most of the film with rural accents, Laurel and Hardy style interaction and absolute sociopathy. They dream of one day doing what they consider the pinnacle of class: eating sushi off of a naked woman’s body.
The early Vares films are a bit on the cheaper side budget wise, but the overall experience is still very positive. This reviewer still remembers the “jackpot” feeling that came after buying this film, completely at random, and seeing the first 10-15 minutes of it. The aforementioned comedic sides, the special effects and some of the characters are all things which might generously be described as either on the simpler side or a bit rough around the edges. Still, almost anyone who don’t mind a bit of the old ultra violence and enjoys fun films really shouldn’t miss out on Vares – yksityisetsivä.
In the next installment of this retrospective we’ll check out the second film in the Vares series: V2 – Jäätynyt Enkeli (2007).