***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Bjørn Floberg, Gisken Armand
screenplay by Nicolaj Frobenius & Erik Skjoldbjærg
directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg
by Walter Chaw A rather astonishing feature debut, Erik Skjoldbjærg's Insomnia is dour, surreal, nihilistic, and steadfast in its theme of masculine self-reflection. It's as slippery to pin down and single-mindedly purposeful as its protagonist--a procedural only inasmuch as Oedipus Rex is a procedural. It's a work of Expressionism, in other words: its exteriors are projections of its interiors in all their canted, perverse, blighted ugliness. An essential misnomer to call it a "noir," Insomnia in its best moments is an absurdist nightmare that pinions male behaviour as these constant vacillations between violence and frailty. (This choice to discuss the world in terms of gender relationships is likely why it's considered a noir at all.) It's the movie that brought Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård to international prominence via a role that suggested a departure, hot on the heels of Breaking the Waves, though a quick peek at his earliest work (especially Zero Kelvin) hints at the volatility of Insomnia's Det. Engstrom. He's the centre of a dark universe. Setting the film in a place above the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn't set has the interesting effect of lighting Engstrom, as he commits his many black deeds, like a particularly ill patient in a doctor's examining room.