Director Line Hatland,
Norway, 2013, 45 mins.
How do you make a portrait documentary about a retired private detective? You of course let her solve one last case – herself.
The Shadow follows Mary Reklev, aged 85 and retired private detective with more than 1000 solved cases in the bag. She was 40 years in the business, and was a “shadow” in many different ways. Both the classic detective shadow, tailing the object of interest, but also immersing herself so much in the cases that she became one with them and therefore unable to detach herself from the shadowy existence. In other ways, Mary also stood in the shadow of her charismatic husband and business partner, and as step by step the viewers follow the solving of her final case, the details of the relationship between the two are also gradually conveyed.
Director Line Hatland has a strong stylistic sense, and as a true detective story the story about Mary solving herself as her own final case is told through a web of interacting threads. Classic interviews with her, her daughter and former members of the detective agency staff, old 8-mm shots showing a happy family life, re-enactments of old cases (with Mary playing herself), and finally the actual staging and preparation of these re-enactments. At first you may find yourself scrutinizing the different layers of the film – what is “real” and what is staged? (Especially if you have just recently seen Sarah Polley’s staged 8 mm in Stories we Tell), but soon the threads take shape and form the portrait of Mary. A portrait that shows a beautiful, old woman, who is charismatic and strong-minded. But as the film moves forward and more parts of the Mary mystery are solved you also see the downsides of the exciting detective life, you see how it becomes all-consuming for Mary and how the deception experienced by Mary’s clients is also a big part of her own life.
The Shadow’s re-enactments of old cases and daily life in the detective agency in the 60s are good vehicles in bringing the story forward and giving you insights into Mary’s life. But more than that they serve the purpose of underlining Mary’s eternal acting – taking on different roles for different cases – and now she is finally playing herself in order to solve her own life. The symbolism is heavy and it is therefore also more in the “staging of the staging” that the re-enactments truly serve their purpose of adding an extra dimension to the characters and the life story. You see how Mary is introduced to the scenography of her old office and how she takes part in the casting of an actor to play her deceased husband. The scene where Mary helps in casting the actor makes a special impact. How do you describe and convey the complexities of your loved one and how can you imagine someone playing that role?
Besides the fascination of Mary and the detective life, what makes The Shadow interesting is its intriguing and creative way of making a portrait documentary, by letting the main character investigate her own life as the true private detective she is, and even having her alter ego (the actress playing herself as a young woman) interview her among the office props. The problem arises at the points where the storytelling tools create too much of a distance along the way and you feel a recurring need to dig a bit deeper beneath the surface. The world of the investigator is so fascinating and intriguing that you want to know and see more. You get curious and want to have the details of the cases and how they were solved, you want to know more about Mary and how she solved them. Even though big revelations are made throughout the film, you feel you only see the tip of the iceberg and only part of what is behind Mary’s façade. But this is certainly a part of the film’s overall stylistic choice – that somehow you have to stay on the surface. So even though you feel this urge to dig deeper into the case it makes perfect sense that like a true private detective you only dig the necessary holes in the surface to reveal the facts and leave when the job is done, when the big revelation is made. The aftermath is then up to the client. And at 85 it is now finally up to Mary to deal with the laid out facts and move on. Case closed.__