Swedes brace for movie version of Stieg Larsson thriller

With the film based on the first book in Stieg Larsson’s crime novel trilogy due to hit Swedish cinema’s on Friday, the AFP’s Delphine Touitou takes a look at how the late authors work has been adapted for the big screen.

Swedes brace for movie version of Stieg Larsson thriller

The “Millennium” crime trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson has become a cult hit worldwide, selling more than 10 million copies, and the first novel’s long-awaited movie adaptation hits screens Friday.

The books have become a phenomenon in Sweden and abroad, translated into more than 30 languages. Their popularity is a striking contrast to their author’s tragic fate.

Larsson, who worked as a journalist in Stockholm, did not live to enjoy the sensational success; he died in November 2004 of a heart attack, aged 50, a year before the trilogy was published.

The film opening in Swedish and Danish movie theatres Friday is based on the first book, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

It follows Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative reporter, and Lisbeth Salander, a feisty rebel hacker-turned-detective, as they search for Harriet Vanger, the niece of a business tycoon who disappeared at the age of 16 four decades earlier in northern Sweden.

In Sweden alone, a country of nine million people, three million copies of the books have been sold. In France, 2.5 million have flown off shelves, while a million copies have been sold in both Spain and Italy.

The city of Stockholm has even picked up on their popularity, offering walking tours pointing out locations mentioned in the book, such as Blomkvist’s favourite pub, his apartment building on Bellmansgatan, and Salander’s favourite watering hole, the classic beer hall Kvarnen.

Fans of the books have been eagerly awaiting the film version, directed by acclaimed Danish movie maker Niels Arden Oplev.

Shot in Stockholm, the film casts Swedish star Michael Nyqvist in the role of Blomkvist, who effortlessly tumbles into violent mysteries and intrigues, while Salander is brought to life by virtually unknown actress Noomi Rapace.

Swedish media have unanimously hailed the muscular, raven-haired Rapace, covered in piercings and a large dragon tattoo on her back for the shoot, for her convincing performance, especially in the most violent scenes including one in which she is brutally raped.

Some critics have said Rapace is physically too big and muscular to faithfully play Salander, described in the trilogy as a small, androgynous girl who is so skinny she looks anorexic.

After seeing an early screening of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour-long movie, however, most viewers said the physical differences were easily forgotten thanks to Rapace’s convincing performance.

The film focuses fully on the Blomkvist-Salander duo, leaving out a number of other memorable characters from the book, including members of the Vanger family.

“The film works well … It’s much better than I thought it would be,” Swedish freelance journalist Jonna Karvonen told AFP.

“I am pleased, because usually the film is not as good as the book.”

Even Stieg Larsson’s family, which signed away the movie rights for an undisclosed sum, was impressed.

“Noomi Rapace is outstanding as Lisbeth Salander,” his brother Joakim raved.

Some readers may be disappointed by the small portion of the film devoted to the book’s other main female character, the journalist Erika who is also Blomkvist’s lover.

“We are of course disappointed we can’t follow that (relationship) … We had to focus on the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth,” Nyqvist told AFP in an interview.

But, he said, that storyline will be developed in the made-for-television version of the trilogy, noting the constraints placed on the film adaptation.

“If you would have everything in it would have been an extremely bad film,” he said.

The movie, shot like a Hollywood thriller but with Sweden’s icy winter landscapes as a backdrop, is due out in Norway on March 13, in Finland on March 27 and in France on May 13, where it will open the Cannes film festival.

It is also expected to hit the big screen in Belgium and the Netherlands soon.

For the Swedish release, the production company Yellowbird said it expected 16,000 ticket sales for Friday, and 25,000 for the opening weekend, which would make it the most successful opening for a Swedish film.

The €11 million ($14 million) project consists of one feature film based on the first book and six television films based on the trilogy, said Yellowbird spokesman Erik Hultkvist.

By the AFP’s Delphine Touitou


‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.