The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

The 21st century noir shocker opens the Foyle Film Festival in style, writes Michael Harrison

The only smile that Lisbeth Salander, the gothic anti-heroine of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, cracks in the entire film is when her psychopathic father is shot dead in his hospital bed. (Apologies, belated spoiler alert!) But it speaks volumes about the engrossing power of this icily atmospheric thriller that when you look around in the cinema, more than half the audience are smiling along with her.

Hornets' Nest is a first-class choice to open the 23 Foyle Film Festival – and it is a testament to the status of the festival that the long-term partner of Hornets' author Stieg Larsson, Eva Gabrielsson, had hoped to travel to Derry for the opening night.

Unfortunately, while Ms Gabrielsson’s visit didn’t come off (and there was no opportunity to interrogate the woman who holds the manuscript to Larsson’s final opus) the Swedish film, adapted for the screen by director Daniel Aflredson, does provide Irish movie-goers with a timely parable of corruption in high government.

Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy, for those unfamiliar with the epic Scandinavian tales, follows the fortunes of crusading journalist Mikael Blomvist (Michael Nyqvist) and the damaged computer genius Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), as they hunt down all manner of vicious gangsters, abusers, rapists, sinister spies and corrupt politicians.

Within the novels, which were edited and published after the writer’s death, the lead pair’s relationship is complicated – possibly unduly complicated. Likewise, some of the extraneous plot lines in the books could have been discarded. But, thanks to some very sharp cutting, the film bypasses many of the unnecessary twists and red herrings and instead rattles along at such a tremendous pace that it’s hard to believe it runs at 2 ½ hours long.

Hornets' Nest opens with Salander under arrest in hospital, having survived a bullet in the brain. On her recovery, she is to be put on trial for attempted murder. Dark forces within the state system are trying to lock her away forever or alternatively, to assassinate her. Blomvist intends to prove Salander’s innocence through his Millennium magazine, but he too is under threat from spooks, who are planning to murder him and/or disgrace his name.

In truth though, Blomvist ends up as a bit player to Salander’s raging avenger. But it’s hard to tell if that’s down to Noomi Rapace’s gripping performance or the tremendous part she plays. Regardless, it is not too much of a stretch to say that Rapace has staked her claim to be one of the greatest actresses of her generation with this portrayal of the brutally clinical, but fiercely moral, social misfit.

It is unfortunate that, because Hornets’ Nest is subtitled, it will have a limited release in Ireland. But if you get a chance to see it, do so. It is an outstanding exemplar of film noir for the 21st century. And it certainly deserves a much wider viewing here, before Hollywood floods us with the first of its remakes next year.

The opening weekend of the Foyle Film Festival also saw the Oscar-nominated director Juanita Wilson visit Derry. Her debut film, The Door, won the Foyle Film Festival Best Irish Short Film of 2008, before being nominated for the Academy Awards this year. Wilson took part in a public discussion about her work, chaired by Nerve Centre director Martin Melarkey. She also showed clips from her new feature film As If I Am Not There, a hard-hitting true story about the recent Bosnian War.

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