Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played with Fire

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played with Fire
Directed by Henrik Georgsson
World Cinema Documentary Competition

Lisbeth Salander and the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series only first appeared in print fourteen years ago, but it’s fair to say that they’ve taken the world by storm. The original Swedish “Millennium” trilogy was a huge success, followed by three Swedish films starring Noomi Rapace and an American adaptation with Rooney Mara. Author Stieg Larsson only lived to age fifty, yet his characters live on in a new book and film, and have already continued beyond that. Explaining what Larson worked for most of his life helps to provide great context to the notion of this protagonist and why it is that she became so popular.

Larsson, who died in 2004 of a heart attack, is profiled in great detail in this film, which takes part of its title from the English translation of his second book, describing Salander. Larsson’s upbringing is briefly mentioned as an influence for his worldview, but much more time is spent on the effort he devoted to helping to expose far-right extremism and neo-Nazism within his country and all of Europe. Numerous colleagues, including those who are only heard and not seen because they live under the constant threat of assassination, are interviewed, sharing their perspectives on the restless dedication Larsson had to shining a spotlight on those hiding in the darkness.

It’s easy to find parallels between Larsson and Salander, as many who are interviewed do, though the goth hacker is able to fight back and take down some of the people who try to abuse and silence her. Larsson’s physical appearance, seen in archive footage and mimicked by an actor in certain recreations, indicates a man of few words who prefers to stay behind the scenes, yet so much of his passion comes through in his writing, and his determination to push and research so that those looking to revive and normalize extremist views could not stay hidden or be allowed to go unchecked. His paranoia about being targeted by those he was going after is also revealed to be very much based in fact, as he simply understood what those who hated him could actually be capable of before they acted.

This film’s title might be a misnomer since the books he wrote are only covered minimally in the beginning and end of this documentary, which instead focuses on the man and all he experienced that then led him to pour all of his knowledge into a work of fiction. This exploration is most effective when we hear from Larsson himself, speaking on television about his findings, and predicting such things as the recent shift of anti-Semitism to anti-Islamism within far-right organizations. This is undeniably an unsettling investigation, but one that pays tribute to a man whose life was cut short while he was still in the middle of his most important work.


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