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Tobias Lindholm - his take on the Kim Wall murder investigation


Tobias Lindholm / PHOTO: Miso Film

The academy-nominated writer/director tells us about Miso Film’s Danish drama series The Investigation set to premiere September 28 across the Nordics.

After his acclaimed reality-based feature films R, A Hijacking and Oscar-nominated A War, Tobias Lindholm has turned to long-form narrative with The Investigation (Efterforskningen), the true-life inspired story of Copenhagen head of homicide Jens Møller’s investigation into the killing of Swedish journalist Kim Wall by Danish inventor Peter Madsen in 2017.

Shifting the focus from the gruesome murder itself to the complex and lengthy process that went into solving the crime, Lindholm wrote and directed the series in close collaboration with Jens Møller and Kim Wall’s parents Ingrid and Joachim Wall.

In the title roles are Søren Malling (A Hijacking, Parents) as Jens Møller, Pilou Asbæk (A War, Game of Thrones) as prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen and Pernilla August (Star Wars, Best Intentions) and Rolf Lassgård (The Hunters, Downsizing) as Kim Wall’s parents.

The series was produced by Fremantle’s Miso Film, in co-production with Outline Film for TV 2 Danmark, SVT and Viaplay, with support from the Danish Film Institute’s Public Service Fund and Copenhagen Film Fund.

Fremantle has licensed the series to the BBC in the UK and RTL in Germany.

Tobias Lindholm spoke to us.

What convinced you to bring this story to the screens in the first place?
Tobias Lindholm: When the whole Kim Wall case started [2017], it was heavily covered in the national and international media. Within a week, I decided not to follow the case that closely. I felt that it became almost an obsession of darkness. I remember that when people said it would be a great movie plot, I disagreed. Then much later, after Peter Madsen’s conviction, I met Jens Møller [head of homicide at Copenhagen police].

I had done films based on reality - The Hijacking, A War. I felt if the head of homicide wants to have a coffee and meet me, then…why not! He must have interesting stuff to tell.

When we met, he told me fascinating stories, including something that really intrigued me. “A human being can die in four different ways: of natural death, accident, suicide, or homicide”. The way he could boil down the cause of death to four categories became my starting point to understand his way of approaching his job and this particular case.

He also told me of the many people who were involved in the investigation - the divers, the scientists, even the Swedish dog that can sniff dead bodies underwater - all the hard work that went into solving this case.

I had never heard of all this and that fascinated me. Also, he told me about the friendship with Kim Wall’s parents - Ingrid and Joachim - that grew out of their meetings. All this combined gave me a real urge to make the series.

By focusing entirely on the investigation, the heroic and dedicated individuals involved, you give a totally new angle to the case, compared to the sensational approach often taken by the media. it’s also in sharp contrast to the traditional Nordic noir, where you often see a corpse in the first frame…
I deliberately chose to change the focus. I felt the case had been told in all its evilness. For me, the big surprise was that behind all the darkness was a story about humanity, about selfless people who worked hard to solve the case. Their story had never been told before.

That approach was very similar to Eric Poppe’s Utøya July 22, where you never show or even mention the perpetrator…
T.L. Yes. I didn’t want to do an emotional drama, but methodically follow the police investigation and the human relations that grew out of that. I took a moral choice and endeavoured to tell the untold story.

Fiction is always an interpretation of reality, but how close to reality is your depiction of Jens Møller’s investigation? I was surprised for instance by the fact that although he is the head of homicide, he never interrogates the perpetrator…
When Jens Møller told me he had never interrogated the perpetrator, I felt I could definitely do a series without mentioning him.

He also told me his story without giving specific details - out of duty of confidentiality. I then did research to double check facts and connect the dots. Jens read the script and did fact checking, together as well with the real prosecutor [Jakob Buch-Jepsen] and Joachim and Ingrid Wall, who were also very involved in every step of the series from the writing, to the shooting and editing.

With the strong protagonists who worked so closely on the series, you could have used documentary filmmaking and not fiction to tell the story…
T.L.: You could say that, but fiction has something unique. I wanted to unfold the story as it happens - see how reality falls in front of you, instead of looking back. Also, the magic with fiction is that it offers the possibility of being someone else for a while. Be it Jens Møller, or Ingrid Wall - just for a few minutes or an hour, it gives you a new perspective on yourself and your life. I wouldn’t be able to do this with non-scripted.

What where the biggest challenges on a narrative point of view?
There are so many clichés about murder investigations, conveyed by many movies and TV shows. I wanted to get rid of it all, and try to look at it from an objective and realistic point of view, while keeping the thrill.

The realism was also heightened by real elements and people linked to the Kim Wall case, that were integrated to the series. For instance, I was so lucky that the real divers volunteered to play themselves. I didn’t have to train actors. And the Swedish dog who helps solve the case, is the same dog in real life, the ship that lifts the submarine from the bottom of the ocean is the real ship etc.

You had already worked with Søren Malling in A Hijacking. Was he just the best for the role of Jens Møller?
Søren is probably the best actor of his generation. He doesn’t have to do much to tell a story. He had the right age and actually looks a bit like the real Jens Møller. Luckily, he said yes early on, and developed the part with me. I therefore wrote with him I mind which made my job easier in a way.


Tobias Lindholm - his take on the Kim Wall murder investigation

The Investigation, Efterforskningen, Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling / PHOTO: Henrik Ohsten

Pernilla August and Rolf Lassgård are also immense actors…
It was a dream come true to work with them. I knew from the very first time I met Joachim and Ingrid Wall that I needed the best Swedish actors to be able to portray the generosity and strength of these two people. Luckily as well, Rolf and Pernilla said yes and gave me some extremely beautiful performances.

Kim Wall was a remarkable journalist and a close friend of hers - freelance journalist Anna Codrea-Rado - pleaded on twitter for people to remember her work, not the way she was murdered. Is this also something you wanted to underline in the series?
Absolutely. There are specific scenes that address this. In many ways, we tried to nuance and expand our understanding of who Kim was. With the parents, we’ve made her who she was - a journalist, doing her job when this tragedy happened.

You’ve directed an episode of Mindhunter - it’s interesting to see what a leap this is from the Netflix show which went into the mind of serial killers…
Yes it is the exact opposite. Mindhunter was focused on the serial killers as it is a portrayal of the FBI agents who developed profiling. They were fascinated by the serial killers because they used that knowledge to build a system that could ultimately stop them. It was a specific approach.

Can you confirm that you will direct another major English language project-the film The Good Nurse [starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain according to the trade press] and that it will portray the infamous US serial killer Charlie Cullen, known as the ‘angel of death’?
T.L: Here again, the focus is not the serial killer. The Good Nurse is about the good nurse Amy [Loughren], a struggling female nurse who against all odds and against the system, helped the homicide detectives stop the serial killer.

You’re also very much under the media spotlight with Thomas Vinterberg’s film Another Round that is attracting great festival attention these days…
Since I came out of film school, I’ve worked with Thomas - the rhythm has been basically that we would write one thing for Thomas and I would write something for myself, and we would have a premiere at the same time. We did Submarino together, I did R, we did The Hunt together and I did A Hijacking at the same time, and then we did The Commune and I did A War at the same time. Now we’ve done Another Round and I did The Investigation. It seems to be the rhythm of life. I enjoy that.