Monthly Archives: November 2010

Showing at the Showroom: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

What started off as something rather unknown and unassuming has come full circle, and reached as satisfactory a conclusion as could be hoped for. The story of ‘The Girl,’ the hacker with sleuthing skill beyond expectation becomes the focus in the final instalment, where the injustices against her are brought to trial, but not without some daft low-rent action distractions en route.

First things first: those approaching the series for the first time are directed elsewhere, because this conclusion won’t make a blind bit of sense otherwise. The story picks up straight where the second one left off, leaving us slap bang in the middle of a bloody standoff, with Lisbet splatterd and dazed like some misplaced ‘last girl left’ evacuee from a horror film. When the next scene cuts to The Shady Conspiracy of Old Men discussing how best to silence a rogue agent, well that won’t make a jot of sense without any context. To the unprompted eye it’s just a living room full of aged Swedish actors (predominantly off the telly) discussing a ‘problem’ over some coffee. Not so much Jason Bourne, more like afternoon tea with my grandparents.

But where the weakness of the second installment lay in the shonky action sequences and general Bond-villian driven nonsense, the final film draws in some of the files-and-archives detective work of the first film to strike a tolerable middle ground. The story is split between the detective work of the journalists trying to patch together Lisbeth’s past for the case against the state, all while the shadowy agents of the very same system work desperately to cover their tracks. You wouldn’t know it from the start, but the film quickly sets about building some momentum towards a knockout courtroom confrontation.

Considering how anemic the Swedish legal system is in dramatic terms (think beige conferences suites, not wigs, gavels, and screaming lawyers) the film still manages to coax out some explosive confrontations as the film turns towards the dismantling of the titular Air Castle** of the original Swedish title. Having been through five hours of one hacker against the whole Swedish-model-of-social-responsibility-GONE-WRONG, well safe to say it’s quite cathartic to see it all so meticulously demolished, misogynist prick by misogynist prick.

Neither of the sequels ever hits the sure-footedness  of the first film, but if you’ve come this far then you’d be daft not to catch the final installment.  Just don’t make this the last Swedish film you see in the next five years…

Three out of Five.

[Note to Cinemas: please don’t make this the last Swedish film you screen for the next five years]

[Note to the Swedish Film Industry: please don’t make this the only film worth screening in the next five years. Seriously.]

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 26th of November 2010

** As with the Swedish titles of the previous installments, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest bears bugger all resemblance to the original: Luftslottet Som Sprängdes, which in literal translation is The Air-Castle Which Exploded. The term Luftslott/Air-Castle is an odd one, broadly speaking a lofty notion or institution built effectively on nothing but hot air. So to modify a straight forward translation that was suggested to me, consider The Bubble Which Blew Up. Or to take a further liberty: The Exploded Pie in the Sky. Now that would make a snappy title.

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The Miscreants of Taliwood @ Sheffield Doc/Fest

Terrifying is not an adjective you can readily apply to most documentaries, at least not beyond the subject matter at hand. Sure, plenty take horrifying travesties of justice as their core focus, and consequently make for a ‘tough watch’. The Miscreants of Taliwood goes one further in effectively making a documentary horror film. Anything can happen, and consequently does. The Doc/Fest catalogue somewhat glibly ends its synopsis reflecting that Miscreants is “at times difficult to watch.” The film goes far beyond that, occasionally to the point of forcing more sensitive viewers out of the screening I saw. Personally I had the good fortune to almost look away, to second guess my line of acceptability. Miscreants definitely crossed that line.

The setup is that of Australian artist/filmmaker George Gittoes, living in Pakistan, off in pursuit of the indigenous Pashto film industry. Micro-budget films that come somewhere between Rambo, Bollywood and Jackass, with political commentary and guaranteed midgets in every film. The heartland of this industry in Peshawar, close to the borders of Afghanistan, is closer still to political rule of the Taliban. As has been well documented, the Taliban hate all ‘frivolous’ creation that isn’t in the name of god, and consequently don’t look too favourably on camp action films with scantily-clad women. Film producers, and dvd vendors are both under persistent attack, kidnapping and threatening individuals, blowing up the stalls of those who sell the films. Still the industry keeps on turning, the producers on the run, the stars living an uneasy existence in an unacknowledged but ever present public eye.

The terror beyond the subject matter itself comes in the merry abandon Gittoes holds towards the telling of this story, his scant disregard for maintaining a register the audience can be comfortable with. Observational footage is inter-cut with overt and covert dramatic/satirical recreations, Gittoes role as observer pushed right to the forefront of the film by maintaining an assistant camera man at all times, consciously filming the filming of the indigenous film industry. When the outsider chooses to personally get involved with the industry, stumping up $4000 (US) and taking a key supporting role, his position as observer, documentary filmmaker, Pashto star and producer gets mixed up into a frankly dizzying mix.

There’s the palpable tension of watching Gittoes drive into the Taliban heartland to interview a prominent Mullah on censorship, an anxiety of the Gittoes becoming just another kidnapped Westerner, executed for the world to behold online. Not that this is played deathly straight, as on either end of the segment are some pretty hilarious clips of Gittoes practically falling over himself in the role of local action superstar.

The central question at the heart of the film seems to be what kind of film star is Gittoes destined to become: that of the AK-wielding Pashto action hero, the dead subject of a gruesome Taliban execution tape, or even just as a unabashed, exploitative and unreliable gonzo documentary maker?

The broad laughs of a Western audience at the high camp shenanigans of the Pashto film industry are all fine and well, but Miscreants’ brilliance comes in the genuinely horrific last chapter of the film, where this very laughter is turned to political ends. Taliwood is as daft as a brush, but it’s one of the region’s few areas of self expression. The Taliban are doing their utmost to terrorise this industry out of existence, and in its place only an industry of propaganda can exist. But just like Pashto action films, the execution propaganda films are pushing towards even more hyperbolic levels of audience engagement. Gittoes goes the distance in showing this horrifying absurdity by throwing an execution film up there. He shows some of it, he partially censors some of it. I couldn’t tell you how much as I’m no big fan of snuff films myself, and chose to close my eyes for the climax. Others didn’t, a few even took this as a cue to make a swift departure from the cinema.

I hated Gittoes for going where he did, for showing the unshowable, while still sort-of-but-insufficiently censoring it at the same time. I couldn’t quite believe the festival would let people see the film without a sliver of warning.

But then the film makes its points, about the indoctrination of the young, about the escalation of terror on both sides of the conflict, about the sheer absurdity of the Taliban’s hypocrisy. Wham-Bam-chew-on-that pal.

Perhaps it’s a bit cheap to knock your audience down, and then effectively lecture them while they’re still on the mat. But it works, the conflict is fucking terrifying and to do it with even an iota of justice you can’t shy away from things. Which is perhaps the ultimate cliché, but never was a stronger case made for it, and all the power to a documentary for going where mainstream news couldn’t go in a million years. A disconcerting experience through and through, and unlikely to be on More4 or BBC Storyville anytime soon.

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