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flick pick | Insomnia 1997
Directed by: Erik Skjoldbjærg
Written by: Nikolaj Frobenius, Erik Skjoldbjærg
Starring: Maria Mathiesen, Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Gisken Armand
Language: Norwegian + Swedish
Look for it at the video store under: foreign [Norway]
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: mind-bending
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5 

Plot synopsis It's summer, and big-city Swedish police detective Jonas Engström and his partner Erik Vik are called out to a small town in the far northern reaches of Norway when the body of a pretty young teenage girl named Tanja is discovered at the town dump. The body's been stripped clean and washed thoroughly, with not a trace of evidence left to point to the killer's identity. The local police, unaccustomed to dealing with brutal, cold-blooded murders, look to the two more experienced Swedish cops to help them in the investigation. Despite the fact that Engström's formerly stellar reputation has been somewhat tarnished in a scandal back home, everything goes smoothly at first. Engström and Vik interview the girl's boyfriend, question her schoolmates, pick through her bedroom for clues. And when they find the backpack Tanja was carrying when she was last seen, it seems they're well on their way to discovering the killer's identity. But when, in the midst of chasing the killer through a dense fog one day, Engström finds himself making a tragic mistake on the job, the investigation goes horribly awry. Here in the land of the midnight sun, where the sun shines all day and all night during the summer months, Engström finds himself plagued with insomnia. The lack of sleep only serves to compound Engström's increasing panic, as he finds himself digging himself into a deep, deep hole in his attempts to cover his tracks.

Review I don't understand why Hollywood studios are always taking intriguing, well-made little foreign films and remaking them for mainstream crowds. Like Abre los Ojos (which begat Vanilla Sky), or Ringu (which begat The Ring), Erik Skjoldbjærg's Insomnia features fine acting, a distinctive style, excellent cinematography, and an intriguing storyline, none of which are improved on in the least when Hollywood decides to put together a big-budget version directed by a more famous director and featuring big name movie stars. So if you haven't already seen the (actually, rather good) Christopher Nolan-directed version, starring Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and Robin Williams, leave it be on that new releases shelf and mosey on over to the foreign section so you can rent the original instead. Lead actor Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Breaking the Waves), the only member of the cast who's likely to be recognized by your average American film-watcher, does a superb job of subtly conveying the many layers of guilt, fear, desire for self-preservation, and growing confusion that Engström feels as he finds himself living a life that increasingly parallels that of the killer. But the sense of understated tension and mystery comes as much from the characters and plot turns as it does from the setting of the film itself. Never has sunlight looked so unsettling, slicing through a dark room in the middle of the night, bouncing off fog, glaring off a stretch of snow on the ground, making the stark Norwegian landscape look beautiful and haunting at the same time, always a bit aloof and unknowable. Insomnia is a smart, understated psychological drama that despite its quiet feel, keeps you on your toes wondering where things are heading, and frequently subverts your expectations.—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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