Thursday, 14 November 2019

Tænk på et tal (1969)

Off-List: Tænk på et tal

The second off-List movie for 1969 is a Danish movie. For each year I look through the list of releases (yeah, that list is not that long..) to see if there is anything I either know to be good or that I am curious to see. The movie that caught my eye for 1969 was “Tænk på et tal”. It loosely translates to “Think of a number” though I have no idea if it has an international release under a different name than its Danish title.

I do not recall watching it before, but I read the book by Danish author Anders Bodelsen in high school and thought back then that it was a solid crime thriller, good enough that I would like to watch the movie. Fortunately, it was not a miss.

Flemming Borck (Henning Moritzen) is a bank clerk in a small suburban branch. He is a quiet man, lives a lone and is a bit on the boring side. One day he finds a scrapped piece of paper in a bin with a text asking to hand over a lot of money. Flemming is disturbed, but also fascinated that somebody had aborted a robbery of the bank. Convinced that the guy will soon show up again Flemming takes a for him very unusual step. He stashes away a large sum (10.000 Danish kroner) in his lunchbox. When the bandit finally does rob the bank he gets a way with 170.000 kroner, but the bank is missing 180.000 kroner, the difference is in Flemming’s lunch box. Flemming has just managed to steal 10.000 kr, a sum roughly equivalent to 15-20.000 $ today.

Now something unexpected happens. The bandit (Paul Hüttel) has worked out that there was supposed to be 10.000 kr more and that the clerk must have the rest. He starts blackmailing Flemming as he has, correctly, deduced that Flemming is not the most assertive type. Flemming’s attempts to avoid and escape the bandit make up the rest of the story and the conclusion is open ended and chilling.

Forty years before “Breaking Bad” here is a story with many parallels. The ordinary and highly inexperienced guy who turns criminal and end up way over his head. This is also a story with many twists and turns and few people are who they are supposed to be. At the same time the setting is so ordinary that you could see yourself there. The bank and the people there are very recognizable with the usual banter and small intrigues and because of this the extraordinary, when it happens feels so much stronger. 

The story is not without problems though. It is never explained why Flemming steals the money. Is it boredom? Facination? A need to escape? By all appearances Flemming Borck as a type seems to be perfectly suited for his quiet, boring life. Secondly, I do not understand why the bandit returns to extract the last 10.000 kroner. He just got 170.000 kroner, vastly more than the clerk got. By comparison the 10.000 kroner are peanuts. Why risk everything to get them. On top of this he persists even after he gets arrested. He sends his girlfriend, Jane Merrild (Bibi Andersson) after him and later when he gets released, he flies to Tunesia to look for him. Seriously?

As usual when watching old Danish movies, this one boast many of the classic Danish actors, both starring and in smaller parts. Most noteworthy though is it that Swedish Bibi Andersson, whom we normally know as one of Ingmar Bergman’s regulars has one of the leading parts. That was a surprise, but it works fine.

“Tænk på et tal” is a quiet but chilling crime thriller and prospective fans of Nordic noir can begin here. It is worth a watch.


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