Monday, June 14, 2010

Lisbeth Salander and 1950s Russian jazz - two worthy acquired tastes

If you've been in an airport recently, you've seen the overwhelming amount of Stieg Larsson books out there.  His Millennium Trilogy has been a massive hit throughout Europe, and the crossover to the American market is really only beginning (film adaptations of the already produced Swedish films are in the hopper).  But rare indeed are the reviews that really credit without dissecting too much what I think is the inherent genius of the books.  There's just a whole lotta there there.  So without giving anything away, I'll offer up a straight shot, no sugar or milk.

With the publication of "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest" we're looking at the last of Larsson's work.  Don't even get duped by the whispered promise of a half-finished novel on his laptop when he up and died from a heart attack (although some pile of words claiming to be "inspired by Stieg Larsson" will surely be released someday).  Concentrate on this triptych of books, all centered on a vast array of Swedes.  Everyone drinks way too much coffee, sleeps like crap, and shares a reserve of withheld secrets that would drive more extroverted people positively bonkers.  The plot moves vast distances, but the abundance of details and precise dialogue drives many people to distraction.  I don't speak Swedish nor do I have any experience with Swedish literature.  But the little I know and love (fading memories of Ingmar Bergman films, Stellar Skarsgaard in the original "Insomnia") leads me to think that Larsson leans very much true toward the serious, powerful storyteller character of Swedish insight.  My rating of the collected Millenium Trilogy - a hard-earned B.  If you only read "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", do yourself a favor and finish it off the massive bundle.  You'll be much happier that way, I promise.

I'll finish off this year's SIFF reviews with the last and best film I saw.  "Hipsters" is a Russian film, set in 1955 amidst the gray anonymity of Soviet control, using a blinding array of colorful, beautiful characters to spin a story about rebellion.  20 years ago, this movie with this contrarian history of internal rebellion absolutely couldn't have been made.  "Hipsters" swept the Russian homegrown equivalent of last year's Oscars.  The director (Valery Todorovsky) was in Seattle for the screening I saw to answer questions from an audience that was largely Russian, including the grandmotherly woman sitting next to me laughing ahead in time as I tried to catch-up reading the subtitles.  Oh, and it's a musical.  Just plain great, too.  My rating - a solid B-plus, down from a possible A-level because it loses focus often enough to be noticeable.  But find a screening - it will be at the Best of SIFF screenings here in Seattle next weekend.  Otherwise, good luck finding an art house theatre that shows contemporary Russian musicals against a backdrop of Soviet oppression.  Shouldn't be hard.

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