Hot cop pix: How Swede it is

The land that begat Bergman isn’t widely known for producing fast-paced, audience-pleasing genre fare.

But 40-year-old Swedish helmer Anders Nilsson has put together not one but three homegrown hit police thrillers.And he’s just knocked Hollywood behemoth “LOTR: Return of the King” into second position on the Swedish DVD rental and sales charts this month with the last installment, “The Third Wave.”

That’s quite a turnaround from 1999, when Nilsson unspooled “Zero Tolerance.”

Back then, he faced a Swedish moviegoing public decidedly unconvinced that Swedes could deliver the action goods to compete with American genre hits.

“We did OK with ‘Zero,’ ” Nilsson recalls, “But not great, because audiences were suspicious. I was not known and the actors were quite unknown.”

Things started to turn around, however, after the pic garnered five noms from the Swedish Academy and the Swedish Distributors Assn. named it the year’s best film.

“Nordic Film sold the picture internationally to around 25 countries and we screened on Swedish TV to about 5 million viewers in three screenings,” Nilsson marvels. “Remember, Sweden has about 8 million people!”

With audiences finally trusting that Nilsson and his team really could deliver cop thrillers on a par with the big boys, the second film of the trilogy, 2001’s “Executive Protection,” became an immediate hit, clocking up a half-million admissions and making history as the country’s first DVD release to go platinum.

Distrib Sandrews estimates some 2 million Swedish viewers have seen the film on video and DVD, and Trust Film exported the pic to some two-dozen countries.

Late last year, Nilsson’s third outing, “Wave” opened to slightly lower box office than “Protection” — a drop Nilsson attributes to “the others being purely Swedish and this last film being set mostly in Germany.”

The recent success for the pic on DVD has heartened Nilsson not just because of the financial rewards, but because he’s keen for viewers to see the digital filmmaking techniques that allowed him to double all the European settings by shooting in Swedish studios, on local backlots and using digital FX.

“Not an actor left Sweden,” says Nilsson, “because we were able to use the same digital techniques that George Lucas uses to put people in space.”

He adds: “These techniques are hugely important for the growth of middle-budget action films in Europe. We shot ‘Wave’ for only E3.8 million, and every single shot set in Netherlands, Germany, U.K. and France was shot by me and my four-man second-unit team in Sweden.”

Because Nilsson sets his tales in the world of Europol cop shops, his characters are drawn from all the countries of Europe. And he focuses on issues close to the hearts of his Scandi auds, with creeping crime from Eastern Europe and Russia driving much of the danger.

Nilsson recounts the promo poster created by the folks at the Shanghai Film Festival when “Protection” bowed there: “They promoted it with the slogan, ‘Look what happened to Europe when communism vanished,’ he says with a chuckle.

More to the point, look what happened to Swedish cinema when its filmmakers stopped chasing the ghosts of arthouse hits and started believing they could beat Hollywood in the popcorn sweepstakes.

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