Millennium 1: Men who hate women

The United States have their hard-boiled detectives and film noir types, but what have the Europeans set against that? Cranky old men in the UK and Scandinavia. Frost, Wallander, Morse… that sort of thing. Lately, the Scandinavians have been busy to ‘invent’ a crime subgenre that benefits from the European diversity. (In case you didn’t know: it generally means that directors need an investment from a couple of countries, countries that in turn ask the director to have a bit of their glorious country inserted into the movie. Thus the European thriller was often an artificial and convoluted creature.) In 2004 the Danish made a crime series (The Eagle) that detailed the maffias and corruption in several countries and for once the result didn’t seem contrived. The series starred von Trier regular Jens Albinus, had music from Jacob Groth and several episodes were directed by Niels Arden Oplev. The latter two helped create the first film of the Millennium trilogy: Men who hate women (a.k.a. Män som hatar kvinnor a.k.a. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The signs were good and thanks to the international popularity of the books, there was no need for artifical funding by several European countries. Everyone was happy to honour Stieg Larsson and keep the books as Swedish as possible, so as not to upset the millions of fans.

The Millennium trilogy you see, is based on the three books by journalist Stieg Larsson. Besides being good books, the series also benefited from Larsson’s early death. Larsson wasn’t the best journalist in the world, his friends tell you in the several documentaries on the DVD, but he was devoted to exposing corruption and misogyny. Thus he created three books starring the middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomquist and punk hacker Lisbeth Salander. (Both are in a way versions of what Larsson hoped to be: an relentless investigative journalist and a ballsy person.) Blomquist is on trial for slander and she’s asked by a company to investigate whether he’s honest or not. They don’t meet.
Blomquist is sentenced to a couple of months in jail, but this doesn’t have to happen immediately. This is when Blomquist (played by Michael Nyquist)  is asked to investigate the mysterious disappearing and possible murder of a mogul’s niece. Blomquist accepts the offer, not only because the vanished girl used to be his babysitter. Blomquist soon finds out he’s not particularly welcome in this remote village, where a lot of people have a hidden agenda and/or connections to the extreme right. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Lisbeth Salander concludes Blomquist isn’t the worst egg in the world and offers her help. It’s the birth of an unlikely duo.

There are many good things to say about Men Who Hate Women, but some deserve a special bit of credit. First and foremost the writers, who decided to make Lisbeth Salander’s character more prominent (but without betraying the nature of Larsson’s novel). Equally important is Noomi Rapace, who leaves a lasting impression as the gutsy but troubled Lisbeth Salander. And finally composer Jacob Groth, who went to Eastern Europe to hire the help of one of the biggest choirs, so the film would have a score that may be subtle but stands out. Despite the financial support of a lot of European tv networks it gave this film the feeling of a grand Hollywood production, whilst keeping the grittiness Hollywood films will never have.

Because yes, the title is not Men Who Hate Women without reason: what has happened (and happens) to Lisbeth and several other women is not the sort of thing you can talk about during the next family dinner. And unlike a lot of American films the violence isn’t glorified or beautified. No, it’s shown as brutal and vile as it is. At the same time, Lisbeth Salander isn’t exactly a princess herself: she is raped and takes revenge by returning to the rapist and tattooing a warning message on the rapist’s stomach. Probably not someone who’ll go topless to the beach next summer.
But it’s exactly this sort of behaviour (the fact that both Blomquist and Salander have their serious flaws) that makes this film so believable and good.

And hardcore fans of the film should watch out for the DVD, which is the extended version of the film (as shown on Swedish television). For the film, a subplot that wasn’t necessary was deleted, reducing the cinema version by 30 minutes. This puts Men Who Hate Women closer to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which did a similar thing and luckily not closer to a lot of other European films which could only get support from networks if they’d added extra footage (read: bonus fodder) so the networks could broadcast the film as a mini-series (thereby filling their schedules for two or three weeks, but reducing the film’s power – but it’s not as if networks tend to care about quality).

Millennium 1: Men Who Hate Women may be bold and brutal, but it’s good European cinema. The Americans, who are not too keen of the brutalness of the film, have announced they’ll remake the film in 2011. It’s already the least anticipated movie of the decade. Misogyny isn’t a fun subject and this film proves you can show it in a film, without reducing yourself to the level of the 80s rape revenge movies like Extremities. Mainly because most abused women aren’t Farrah Fawcett and fairy tale endings don’t always exist in real life. We may seem civilized but underneath this thin layer of manners lies a dark world. Thus spoke Stieg Larsson.

8.5/10

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