Historically, Swedish cinema has been somewhat overlooked, save for a certain Mr. Bergman. With their latest rerelease, The Man on the Roof (1976), Radiance are bringing further attention to Bo Widerberg, a Swedish director, writer, and editor most known for his rigorous dramaturgy and sharp politics. In what was his first foray into the crime genre, the result is a robust if somewhat undaring slice of workmanlike police procedural.
Following a brutal murder in a hospital ward, we shadow ageing chief inspector Martin Beck (played with a weary weight by comedian Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt) and his fellow cops as they attempt to track down the killer. Their investigation is complicated by the nature of the victim: veteran police lieutenant Stig Nyman (Hadar Johansson), who, by all accounts, was a particularly nasty and abusive officer. With the list of potential suspects as long as Nyman's list of arrests, matters escalate dramatically when the titular rooftop assassin begins picking off cops with an automatic rifle.
An adaptation of the novel The Abominable Man (1971) by celebrated crime writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man on the Roof is cinéma vérité in the style of Friedkin's The French Connection (1971), an unashamed riff that trades the smoky city blocks of Chicago for the cool minimalism of a Sweden winter. Conversations stop and start, dialogue spills over itself, and Widerberg's camera appears to react on a second-to-second basis, pushing in on actions and reactions with a practised curiosity.
That matter-of-factness lends itself well to the film's more crass images, whether it's the splashing torrents of blood released by a bayonet in the film's opening murder, or a limp lifeless body hanging from a helicopter by a harness. Widerberg is content to hold these two opposing tones in tight contradiction, the documentary shooting style sharpening the edge of the larger-than-life violence. If anything it's the procedural sequences that suffer, delivered in the same monotone register with little aesthetic distinction.
While the tone is fairly consistently dour, Widerberg is careful to shade his poe-faced procedural with small character details; intimate moments between a young family captured with partial nudity, a slight hold on a half-eaten apple on the bed-side table of a dead man; a quiet tracking shot of a child on a tricycle amongst the chaos. Given that Widerberg's thematic interest doesn't extend far beyond a “one bad egg” critique of the police institution, it's these minor grace notes that help carry the interest between the moments of bloodshed.
Limited Edition Special Features:
- High-Definition digital transfer by Svensk Filmindustri
- Uncompressed mono PCM audio
- Introduction by Bo Widerberg (1978, 3 mins)
- Scene-select audio commentary by critic and genre expert Peter Jilmstad on topics covering the film, realism, the cast, Sjöwall and Wahlöö, the crash and more
- With a View to Realism – A documentary by Ronny Svensson and Markus Strömqvist on the making of The Man on the Roof featuring extensive interviews with the cast and crew (2004, 81 mins)
- Bo Widerberg – An intimate portrait of the filmmaker by Karsten Wedel in which Widerberg discusses his films and approach to filmmaking (1977, 51 mins)
- Rapport – Bo Widerberg and Carl Gustaf Lindstedt are interviewed during the shooting of The Man on the Roof for SVT TV (1975, 3 mins)
- Original trailer
- Gallery of promotional materials
- Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
- Limited edition 52-page booklet with contributions from Widerberg biographer and critic Mårten Blomkvist, archival writing by Widerberg, Anders Marklund on genre filmmaking in Sweden, Daniel Brodén on the film and society, and an overview of contemporary reviews
- Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
The Radiance edition of The Man on the Roof arrives in the UK on Blu-ray on April 17th