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Re-imagining the Øresund Region: The Bridge (2011-2013)

The Danish-Swedish crime drama The Bridge is the first major screen production to place the transnational Øresund region centrestage. Pei-sze Chow examines how the newly-constructed region has been represented on film and television, and highlights how a sense of an ‘Øresund community’ is mediated through language and subtitling in The Bridge.
The Bridge 2

Scandinavian crime thriller The Bridge has been been an international hit. The show was equally set in Denmark and Sweden.

In a behind-the-scenes interview, Kim Bodnia, who plays Martin Rohde in The Bridge (Bron/Broen) muses on the cultural significance of the successful crime drama that takes place in the Øresund region: ‘The Bridge is a symptom of something real.’

If Bodnia is referring to a growing sense of the transnational Øresund region as a shared, hybrid territory inhabited by ‘Øresund citizens’, then how is this common identity portrayed in the drama? How is the Øresund region and its imagined community mediated through the lens of the crime genre, and what can the production and reception contexts of The Bridge tell us about cultural encounters within the Øresund region and beyond?

These are some of the questions I ask in my PhD project that examines the ways that the places and spaces of the Øresund region have been represented not only on television but also on film since the 1990s.

In my project the focus is to think about the ways that film and television function to shape how this transnational region is imagined, and to investigate how identity in the region is mediated to local and international audiences. My analyses of film and televisual texts are situated in the socio-political context of the region’s development since the 1990s, and I also pay particular attention to the cultural policies that seek to foster a common identity in the region.

What is the Øresund Region?

Map_of_Öresund_between_Denmark_and_Sweden

The Øresend region became an reality in the late-1990s with the creation of a bridge and large-scale urban developments on both sides of the strait.

By now, viewers of The Bridge will be familiar with the Øresund Bridge that joins the cities of Copenhagen in Eastern Denmark and Malmö in Southern Sweden. Completed in 1999, the bridge traverses the Øresund strait that previously divided the two nations. Now, it is the most prominent artefact that represents the Øresund Region, a transnational ‘mega-city’ region of about 3.7 million inhabitants spread across Copenhagen and Malmö.

In the late 1990s, economic pressures from globalisation and the newly-formed EU led to the creation of an integrated region. The Øresund region soon became a reality with the construction of the bridge, large-scale urban developoment on both sides of the strait, and the creation of cross-border organisations supported by EU regional development funds.

Today, the Øresund region is generally characterised as a transnational region where Danes and Swedes live and work together (although not necessarily feeling a strong sense of cohesion). Seamless mobility between the two cities is enabled by the Øresund bridge, which now symbolises the integration of the two similar, but different cultures in a post-industrial landscape. Its official name, Øresundsbron, is a hybrid – ‘Øresund’: Danish, ‘bron’: Swedish.

The Bridge – a shared production

One of the unique things about The Bridge is its bi-national production context – Hans Rosenfeldt, lead writer and co-creator of the drama, was specifically given the assignment to write a thriller that was equally set in Denmark and Sweden. Every aspect of its production, from the financing to shooting locations, cast, crew, and writing team, is split 50-50. This equality of representation is replicated in the narrative where there is an equal mix of Danish and Swedish characters, and crime scenes are spread equally on both sides of the strait.

Linguistic encounters

The Bridge

Danish television the Bridge the Swedish dialogue is subtitled into Danish, while on Swedish television, the Danish dialogue is subtitled into Swedish.

One peculiarity of the drama is that it smooths over the cultural differences between Danes and Swedes to a very large extent. A recurring element of the drama, especially in the first season, is the cultural and linguistic encounters between the two nationalities, embodied by Swedish detective Saga Norén (played by Sofia Helin) and her Danish partner, Martin Rohde.

Other than initial misunderstandings involving frokost/frukost and the pronunciation of ‘Rohde’, the bi-national duo and their team seem to converse flawlessly in their own languages: the Swedish detectives speak Swedish to their Danish colleagues, who reply in Copenhagen-accented Danish. Their attitudes and working styles clash (one is a rule-breaker, the other sticks by every rule), but they get the job done. If the crime-ridden world of The Bridge is a microcosm of the Øresund region, then the region is represented as a place where mutual understanding and cooperation is the norm.

In reality, the meeting of two cultures in the shared space of the Øresund isn’t as straightforward and neatly packaged. As the actors reveal, it isn’t entirely the case that the two languages are mutually comprehensible. Even the scripts used on set have Swedish, Danish, and mixed versions to accommodate all cast and crew.

Subtitled crime

Subtitling is another area of encounter that problematises the drama’s portrayal of an Øresund region where everyone can communicate with each other with 100% clarity: on Danish television, the Swedish dialogue is subtitled in Danish, while on Swedish television, the Danish dialogue is subtitled in Swedish. For viewers outside Scandinavia, this may come as a surprise.

Turning_Torso_3

Architectural landmarks like the Turning Torso skyscraper feature in the opening montage to The Bridge. This has helped to increase film tourism in the Øresund region.

Of course, the nuances in the transnational cultural encounters are all but lost on UK audiences who encounter the drama and the Øresund through a single set of English subtitles. To the ‘foreign’ viewer unfamiliar with the languages and the locations where the various scenes take place, the image of the Øresund region depicted in the drama could well be exactly what its urban planners and politicians intended: a seamless and integrated region and community.

As noted elsewhere on this site, the appetite of UK audiences for ‘subtitled drama’ on television is on the rise, and it will be interesting to see whether such encounters with foreign crime dramas and interest in all things ‘Nordic noir’ may encourage international viewers to overcome the language barrier.

Already, The Bridge has travelled well even though it was not specifically produced with international audiences in mind, and it has even helped to increase film tourism in the Øresund region. In fact, each episode opens with a montage of Danish and Swedish architectural landmarks such as the Little Mermaid statue and the Turning Torso skyscraper, almost serving as a noir-tinted tourism advertisement.

The positive reception of The Bridge in Scandinavia and successful transplantation in other regions owes much to its portrayal of the cultural encounters between nationalities in a cross-border region. The Øresund region is still in the process of becoming, and negotiating a regional identity through politics, geography, and culture can be a very complex process. The Bridge manages to hint at some of these complexities yet at the same time project an almost-cohesive imagined community in an ideal Øresund region — albeit one tainted with transnational crime.

Pei-sze Chow is a PhD research student at University College London. Her PhD examines representations of urban space and architecture of the Øresund region on film and television

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