SUNDANCE 2019: Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played With Fire
When we think of the popular and acclaimed “Millennium” crime novels we think of its film renditions and the indulgences of a good, steely read dipped in dark noir habits. However inviting those stories are, what is equally truer and stranger than the fiction that boiled through its ink was the reality of such things. In that respect, it’d be remiss of us to overlook the true grit and legacy of its author, Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson. Directed by Henrik Georgsson, Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played with Fire is the deeply staggering documentation of a man’s persistence to taint the efforts of modern-day neo-Nazism and the political cruelty that embedded a nation’s democracy.
As a man, Sieg Larsson had a quiet brand of nobility and a fixated mastery of finding things out. He worked as a graphic artist for Scandinavia’s largest news line, TT News Agency in which he created sketches for colleagues’ articles and columns while diving into the headlines of rampant crime on his evenings. Larsson’s unflagging critique of the fascism that raptured Europe in the ’80s was on a level that could compete with such political misfires of the time. His acts of journalism were met with notoriety and threats among the groups he exposed. Larsson’s rapt obsession with European far-right movements and the work to combat their rhetoric made him not only a target, but an outstanding, overworked figure in the climate of a Europe in political flux.
Larsson was a particularly reserved man with his cigarettes at his desk, his overconsumption of coffee, and the looming reminder that democracy was always at risk, but more in that moment than ever before. To judge the man by his self-health, tireless work, and resistance to stay silent would be both idiotic and reasonable. He loaded work onto himself and others with the consistency that made their output immediate, engrossing and enraging for all the right reasons. Georgsson’s documentary of the man is guided by interviews with former colleagues, editors, co-creators, and his life companion. It unveils the importance of posterity and dignity in the freedom of the press while prompting the need for activism and fight. The documentary also features archival footage of streets littered in protest and aggression at the hands of contemporary Nazism. This is a stark contrast to his upbringing in memories and days spent on the Swedish farms as a child, but it’s evident of how the film is progressively more immediate.
Larsson was no coward. His duties informed the public in more ways than what’s televised. As below-the-radar as his research was, his publications and stockpile of findings are what fueled his life, for it’s apparent he’s never felt more dedicated to anything else. In the States, he may very well only be known to some as the author who penned a trilogy of novels. His “Millennium” books garnered its posthumous recognition in what became of the Swedish film adaptations, and then widespread in the US films The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and last year’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web. The character of Lisbeth Salander is unflinching, meticulous, and a threat to the scum that walk among us, much like Larsson was. In Georgsson’s direction, Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played with Fire is a pertinent piece of work that doesn’t dream of letting the righteous and their dutiful activism get lost in a grim reality.