To the film buff, noir means, ‘a type of crime film featuring cynical malevolent characters in a sleazy setting and an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography’. But to a layman, noir can be eloquently described in the following way: ‘Something to do with murder, detectives, night and sex’.
There’s classic noir, when this term was coined and used for movies like Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity and DOA. Then there’s neo-noir (LA Confidential), noir-sci-fi (Inception), noir-comedies (Novocaine), noir-westerns (Unforgiven) and stoner-noir. Yes, although stoner-noir refers to films like Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski, it could very well refer to your life if you are smoking up and watching an Uday Chopra film/Abhishek Bachchan ad at the same time – things could get very dark then.
There is debate on, about whether noir is a genre in itself or if it’s just a setting. But the thumb rule is: if the film is set at night, revolves around crime, and is NOT directed by M Night Shymalan, it may just be noir. Except in the case of 1997’s Norwegian film, Insomnia, directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg.
Apart from its very English name (or maybe ‘insomnia’ is called ‘insomnia’ in Norwegian also) and its very Swedish lead actor, Stellan Skarsgård, the film is Norway’s individualistic take on the genre. The ‘Land Of The Midnight Sun’ doesn’t have night for the major part of the year, and just by that virtue, it moves away from ‘standard’ noir conventions – since the entire film takes place in light (‘film noir’ literally means ‘black film’).
The movie follows a detective, Jonas Engstrom (Skarsgård) as he goes about investigating the seemingly calculated murder of a young girl, and ends up getting entangled in another crime. There’s the insomnia he has because of the sun glaring in his eyes from the window in his hotel room, and then there’s the lack of sleep because of the murders playing with his head, and consuming him each ray of sun at a time.
The tension on the screen is palpable from start to end, courtesy strong performances by the cast and Skjoldbjær’s skilful direction. And although writer Nicolas Frobenius reveals the suspense early, the tight screenplay makes sure you are always hooked, anticipating something next, though you don’t quite know what that is.
And no, Skjoldbjærg didn’t break into Christopher Nolan’s dreams and make the film before Nolan’s in 2002. Nolan’s Insomnia was an official remake – and if he loved the original enough to remake it, you’d be wiser by watching it yourself!
Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Maria Mathiesen, Sverre Anker Ousdal
Written By: Erik Skjoldbjærg and Nikolaj Frobenius
Directed By: Erik Skjoldbjærg
Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, April 2011 issue
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