Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Woman With the Incredible Lungs

Unfortunately this week something happened off-screen that was far more interesting than what was happening on-screen, so much so that this review's sub-headline is: Crinkle, Crinkle, Big Old Fart.

I was just settling down to watch The Girl Who Played With Fire at midday with 12 pensioners when this geyser of about 65 settled down in the row behind me and opened his pack of lollies. Candy in the States, sweets in South Africa.

Crinkle, crinkle, his papers went as the opening credits started.

"Excuse me," I said, "could you please try to be quiet?" The old fart instantly lost his temper and rather petulantly crinkled his lollies even louder in my direction. Once the pack was finally open he ate at his bloody lollies for the entire first half of the movie and, though the sound was much softer, we had created such a tension about his jolly old lollies that every little sound jarred.

The film, by comparison, was not half as good as its predecessor or as tense as my little situation. For one, it doesn't even look as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though we do see Lisbeth Salander's beautiful tat properly this time - twice. In fact, the film's quite grainy. Maybe new director Daniel Alfredson's idea was to portray his native Sweden as more gritty, but it just looks cheap.

Noomi Rapace (pictured above) still plays Salander as the chain-smoking researcher/hacker who never - and doesn't really have any reason to - smile. In this regard we are still in the grim world of Ingmar Bergman. Michael Nykvist still plays the sexy, over-40 investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist.

But the sympathetic connection between the two is lost because they only get to see each other at the end. This means that you have to have seen the first movie to understand their unusual and considerable chemistry.

Halfway through this crinkling movie I also realised that I was going to be late for a meeting with a fellow filmmaker; and I had to phone my daughter to wish her well for her ballet exam after she'd had a tetanus injection at school. More offscreen tension

Another problem with the film is that it's ostensibly about human trafficking, but it doesn't really ever get round to that properly. What it gets around to is Lizbeth's father and half-brother, two really nasty pieces of work. There's a macabre take on the nuclear family when these three engage in a bloody battle that's almost hilarious, though for all the wrong reasons.

But it's when Lisbeth get buried, unconscious, one dark moonlit night, and digs herself out, phoenix-like, the next morning, that this film enters Twilight territory and loses all credibility for me. Roll end credits.

At the exit the old fart was considerately empty his lolly papers into a dustbin and blocking my way. I had to get past him to get to my meeting as quickly as possible. Halfway down the stairs, however, he leaned over and said: "Piss off, you prick." So I stopped and ran back up the stairs. "If you really feel strongly about this," I said, "why don't you give me your name and I'll publish it?" "You're just another South African arsehole," was his response.

The rest of the elderly patrons walked by as if absolutely nothing was happening.

"And you don't have the balls to give me your name," I said. "What's yours?" he said. I gave him my surname. "Afrikaans?" he said. "Half," I shot back. "Piss off back where you came from," he said. "I've got every right to be here," I said. "They probably don't want you back there anyway," he said. "And as I said, if you really feel strongly about this, at least have the courage of your convictions and give me your name." But all he could come up with as a parting shot was: "And you're a racist to boot."

Halfway across town, having comforted my daughter telephonically and warned the fellow filmmaker that I was going to be late, I realised that, unlike Blomkvist, I'd blown it as an investigative reporter. All I should have done was take a shot or 21-second video with my cellphone of that crinkling old fart and I would have had a scoop.

"Girl" With the Shy Tattoo

The original title of the book on which this film is based is Men Who Hate Women, which is not quite as sexily marketable as the present one, even though it is much more to the point. Only once do we get a glimpse of that magnificent tat, and then it really has nothing to do with the story.

But that's a detail in a compulsively watchable film (on DVD) that was made in Sweden and directed by a Dane. What's going on? Where are the days of those excruciatingly long and slow - but ultimately rewarding - Bergman films? Gone, it would seem, and not all for the worse.

Hollywood, of course, can't wait to remake the film in Americanish with David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) at the helm. At least they got the director right, but all they really have to do is dub the film, it's so Fincher-like anyway.

And why can't Americans enjoy different actors, different landscapes? Maybe Ambrose Bierce was right. Maybe God invented war solely so that Americans can learn geography.

Blomkvist is a perfectly interesting, sexy and watchable male lead, bad skin and all, as is the titular "girl", played by Rapace. They, along with excellent direction, slick cinematography and a pulsating soundtrack, keep this slick thriller cooking all the way.

Of course, any darkness in a European film is quite likely to be traced back to Nazism, as alive today as it was 60 years ago, but never mind. What we get reminded of is that there is still an underbelly to Sweden, often held up as shining example of social democracy and sexual equality, and that can only be good.

But the film does make itself guilty of being voyeuristic about sexual sadism, which is not cool, especially since the rest of the film is so erotically seductive.

Neil Sonnekus

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