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“Remember, you have been trained for this,” says a veteran cop to the rookies sitting in the back of a van as they approach a post-soccer match brawl at a local park.
But in “Huss” nothing in her police academy lessons prepares Katarina Huss for her months as a trainee on the mean streets of Sweden’s Göteborg: Abduction, battery, corruption, betrayal, manslaughter and attempted murder. And that’s just within the police force itself.
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Produced by Daniel Gylling (BBC’s “Wallander”), and written and directed by Jörgen Bergmark (“Grey Zone,” “Beck”), “Huss” is the latest series from Yellow Bird Productions (“Millennium”). Co-written by Peter Lindblom, whose work includes Sweden’s “Wallander” series, and inspired by Helene Tursten’s best-selling novels, “Huss” is backed by Viaplay, Scandinavia’s biggest local SVOD player, Discovery, and Germany’s ZDF and ZDF Enterprises, Europe’s biggest TV co-producers.
ZDFE has acquired international rights and is now bringing “Huss” onto the open market.
The Scandinavia-ZDF axis has already yielded Nordic Noir classics “The Killing” and “The Bridge.” A very human look at an institution, “Huss” takes a different tack, with Katarina navigating a new moral landscape – driven in the five semi-autonomous episodes by a murder involving a minor, gender abuse, a hostage crisis, going undercover to bust a drug syndicate and – creating the serial backbone to season one – fall-out from stand-the-ground policing of recent riots that has left one squad member in coma.
The result is a highly present-tense cop crime drama that builds to a picture of the dynamics, structures and particular collective psychology of a police force that is only answerable to itself.
“‘Huss’ is special because of the way the series is created around its central character, Katarina Huss. We’re not only observing Katarina, we are standing right beside her, seeing things exactly the way she sees them,” said Robert Franke, VP ZDFE.drama, ZDF Enterprises.
He added: “We adopt her perspective and Katarina’s reality becomes ours. That’s exciting, demanding, appealing – and very convincing when it comes to boarding a project like ‘Huss.’”
Variety talked to Bergmark as ZDFE launched season one of an envelope-pushing and involving procedural, which will heat up the career of star Karin Franz Körlof (“The Wife,” “The Restaurant”), an actor, playwright and director who was a Berlinale European Shooting Star in 2017.
“Huss” feels post-Time’s Up. Men in power, such as squad head Johan, still make passes, here at Katarina. They are at least decorous doing so. Episode two deals with the squad’s attempts to teach a lesson to a vicious, recidivist wife-beater…
We tried not to portray traditional macho ideals of masculinity, avoiding the cliché. The squad members are not feminists, but at least they’re modern enough to understand there are lines in courting and sexuality. But one must consider, that both Johan and Darius are higher in rank than Katarina. Still it becomes her responsibility to navigate within this structure.
At one point in the series, Darius, a detective, asks Johan whether the squad has abducted an offender and taken it into their hands to beat him up. “I’ve had partners who’ve taken thugs into the woods,” Darius says. “Then you should know that we stick together and keep our mouths shut,” Johan retorts. Johan emerges as very much the ideologue of police values.
Yes. The series talks about the police as a group, their structures and system. When you do a police series these days, it’s hard to ignore what’s going on around the world especially this year, an ongoing conflict between parts of the population and the police force and the most important thing about the police is their internal loyalty.
Katarina is also, crucially, the daughter of Göteborg deputy chief of police, Irene Huss. The squad is working class. That creates a large tension within the group. But it’s a larger issue. In episode one, Katarina compliments a kid who lives in a high-rise on his drawing. “Is that what you want to do when you’re older?” she asks. “Some people draw for a job….” “Not people like me,” he replies. He’s only 12 but he already has that sense of limited perspectives…
When we write we’re committed to contemporary society, our own communities. Poverty is a big issue, not just in Sweden. It’s not a question of ethnicity, which is the right wing analysis, but of class. When I was a kid, poor people and criminals looked just like me. Many times nowadays, they don’t.
Good series or movies often chart psychological processes. In this sense, “Huss” plays rather like a coming of age story in which Katarina begins the series as a rookie cop who believes in black and white but is plunged into a world which, rather like that of adulthood, is far grayer, where she’s forced to make some pretty hard ethical choices. Could you comment?
I’m happy that you see that. Katarina is overwhelmed by a world where she has to decide whether to be true to whom she was and is supposed to be or to structures opposed to her, forcing her to think and act in ways she normally wouldn’t. The question of loyalty – not just to the force but to yourself and friends – runs throughout the series. The big conflict is between the public and the police force but we use Katarina to embody it in a way.
Every episode or movie is prefaced by an interrogation of the squad members or Irene about police strategy during riots six months earlier that left one squad member, Karl, in coma, hit by a cobblestone, and another, Robert, grossly traumatized. There’s a suggestion that Jonas should have known when to stand down and an accusation, made against Irene Huss, that mass arrests merely exacerbated confrontation…
The riots in the series are inspired loosely by the 2001 Göteborg E.U. Summit Riots when the chief of police lost control of the situation and then escalated it. Protesters were injured, even shot by the police, and a lot of officers suffered trauma. So I imagined a situation 20 years later where a police squad arrives at a riot, totally under-informed – which is the situation on the ground of much police work – and gets overrun by rioters and doesn’t receive any backup. This would of course create bitterness.
What were your guiding principles when directing “Huss”?
We shot every scene from Katarina’s perspective. She’s always in the center though she may be passive in the actual scene. It is not Nordic Noir. The tone comes from a decision on naturalism, that everything that is visible or every action or line, would actually work in the real world. It was tempting to use an even more realistic or semi-documentary cinematography but we settled for a dynamic mix of handheld and classical. But always following the actors, trying to get inside the characters minds.
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