“You’re a horse person?” a Belgian stable owner asks Johanna, a young Finnish journalist delving into the discovery of a microchip in a baby’s meat patty at a Helsinki daycare center. Only creator-director Auli Mantila’s own horse affiliations as a qualified farrier may explain in part one of the most singular of entries at this year’s Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize: “Transport.”

This is Scandinavian crime drama, but “ordi-noir,” Mantila told the Nordisk Film & TV Fond newsletter, in that it “happens in broad daylight, involves people with no special talent or trauma, and takes place in locations anyone could just walk in.”

It also addresses a massive but little explored subject, turning on pan-European food fraud which embroils three women: Marianne, a by-the-book bank loans exec forced to money launder earnings of a sinister food import company; an insurance investigator checking the disappearance of a border control veterinarian; and the indefatigable Johanna.

A Finnish public broadcaster YLE original series, and part of its notable line in international co-production, “Transport” is distinguished, as its short synopsis says, by its story of largely ordinary women, under pressure from their authoritarian male bosses to buckle under in a corrupt or constricting reality. Here the women fight back.

Produced by Finland’s Miia Haavisto (“Tom of Finland”) and Tia Talli (“Nurses”) of Tekele for YLE, in co-production with Belgium’s Philippe de Schepper (“Black-Out”) and Jonnydepony’s Helen Perquy (“Tabula Rasa”), “Transport” was picked up for global distribution by REinvent Studios in a deal announced at the tail-end of last year’s Berlinale Series Market. It is also backed by Nordic public broadcasters DR, RÚV, NRK, and SVT as well as the Finnish Film Foundation, Screen Flanders, DPG Media, Belga Films Fund, Nordisk Film & TV Fond and Creative Europe.

“Shadow Lines” star Emmi Parviainen plays Johanna, Maria Heiskanen (“Everlasting Moments”) the wife and maybe widow of the disappeared custom’s official, and Pirkko Hämäläinen (“Devil’s Bride”) Marianne.

“Transport” showrunner Mantila’s debut feature, “The Collector” played Venice in 1997, while her second, 2000’s “Geography for Fear,” was selected for the Berlinale. “Silver Stars” won a Prix Europa award for best drama series in 2008.

Variety chatted to her in the run-up to 2022’s Göteborg Film Festival where the winner of the NFTF Prize will be announced at the fest’s TV Drama Vision on Feb. 2.

Are you a horse person? the Belgian stable owner asks journalist Johanna in “Transport.” I get the impression that you love horses as a qualified farrier. Does this explain your comeback with your first work as a writer-director in 17 years?

No, not really. Of course I love to be around horses, but as a film-professional I know that my personal preferences are not enough for creating an immersive story. During those 17 years I have been working with horses, but also on talent development, script consulting and producing. I like it on the sidelines, but now that I have something worthwhile to say, I don’t mind coming back to the frontline.

The series turns on three women under pressure to buckle under from authoritarian male bosses. Is this a coincidence?

Well, these three bosses just try to get along with these three mavericks, who understandably sometimes get on their bosses nerves. I don’t blame those bosses – I just wish them luck.

An international crime thriller but, involving as producer Miia Haavisto told Variety, “ordinary people under extreme pressure,” often to prove themselves at work. Would you agree that this in part gives the series its singular character? 

Maybe so, but I also think that our series stands out because its´ suspense is not based on fear of violence. It does not toy with the idea of hurting people. I am tired of violence and abuse, so right in the beginning I wanted to challenge myself to find more than that.

What were your main guidelines when it came to directing the series? 

Invisibility, relatability, inevitability. I wanted the series to feel as if it would have happened even if me and the crew hadn’t been there. And as if it really could have happened to you and your family and friends. As if it was a true story, unfolding as you watch it. That’s probably the hardest thing there is – to be invisible –  but that’s what I love to do and to see.

The series is a co-production with Belgian. How did that come about?

I had a wonderful crew in Belgium. Hardcore professionals, but gentle, attentive with a silent, hilarious sense of humour. I’m going back the instant someone invites me.

“Transport” is made for YLE, which has just renewed “The Paradise,” whose first season was largely set on the Costa del Sol, has a pilot for “Story Hunters,” set in northern Norway, and “Emergency Unit,” unspooling in the Himalayas. Do you sense that Finnish drama series are becoming ever more cosmopolitan?

Well, it’s not enough to shoot abroad to make a really cosmopolitan series.  To be truly international means you need to find stories that melt hearts all over the globe. Therefore, you need to dive deep into yourself and find the needs and wants and feelings that are the most human, most vivid, most relatable. You don’t need to travel to be cosmopolitan – you just need to be human.

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Auli Mantila Sami Kuokkanen