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The release of a double-DVD pack of four films featuring popular Stockholm detective Martin Beck, highlights the continuing popularity of films with a noir sensibility - among the rich and textured menu of world movies in the Aztec library. Andrew L. Urban reports.

In the tradition of Montalbano and Wallander, Peter Haber stars as Martin Beck, a Stockholm detective and archetypal loner, in four feature films based on the series of bestselling novels by Swedish husband and wife writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The Beck novels have remained crime fiction favourites since they were first published in the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s not just the Scandinavians who love their movies of criminal investigations performed by dour detectives in cold climates and in the Martin Beck TV films, viewers are guaranteed all the important elements: a cracking good detective tale; a healthy serve of antipathy and world-weariness from the characters - and excellent characterisations of Beck and Larsson by Peter Haber and Mikael Persbrandt respectively.

"one of my favourite genres"

When I was Channel Host at World Movies (2001 - 2006), one of my favourite genres to present was the Scandinavian crime movie. The Danes and the Swedes excel at this for some reason; the Norwegians are good at it too as evidenced by Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia (1997) which was remade by Christopher Nolan in 2002 with Al Pacino and Robin Williams. Although the remake isn’t bad, the original is, well, original. So too with Beck and Wallander and all the films from the colder countries.

I would go so far as to argue that Scandinavian detective stories are renewing interest in noir; the elements are very similar, and the primary difference between the classic films noir of the 40s and 50s and these new productions is the cinematography – both in terms of lighting and texture as well as style. But the essential melancholy that is the human condition in the world of noir is all there.

These four Beck films - The Man With No Face, Revenge, The Cartel, and The Recluse – are just the tip of a 26 TV episode iceberg. Dialogue is wry, economical and naturalistic. Peter Haber is antiheroic and a loner with baggage. In another era, he might have been Sweden’s Humphrey Bogart, even.

(See our full review of Beck - Revenge)

This double disc set (MA, available via mail order at AztecInternational.com.au for $39.95) is just one of the gems in the world movie collection at Aztec. Here are some of my favourites from those also available, starting with some classic films noir:

The Blue Dahlia (1946) – dir. George Marshall. Stars Alan Ladd, Veronika Lake. This is the original, with a screenplay by the master - Raymond Chandler. And this is the terrific, tabloidesque tagline: “Tamed by a brunette - framed by a blonde - blamed by the cops!”

Black Angel (1946) – dir. Roy William Neill. Stars Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford.

The Big Clock (1948) – dir. John Farrow, Stars Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan.

Other interesting titles in the Aztec library include:
Ben X – dir. Nic Balthazar. Sstars Greg Timmermans, Marijke Pinoy. From the opening moments, as the graphics of the Archlord online game intercut with the world of Dutch teenager Ben (Timmermans), we know we’re in for something special.

Factotum – dir. Bent Hamer. Stars Matt Dillon. The honesty of the work is nowhere better demonstrated than at the moment Hank faces one of his many ex-employers, wanting his severance cheque, explaining he just wants the money so he can go and get drunk, he adds, "That may not sound noble ..., but it's my choice."

Irina Palm – dir: Sam Garbarski, Starring Marianne Faithfull. There is a stillness to Marianne Faithfull's performance that's usually the mark of great actors, an emotional magnet that pulls us toward the centre of their character, and it helps to make this a rewarding as well as unique film.

The Double Life of Veronique – dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski. Stars Irene Jacob. an exploration of that vague question we all may have entertained: is there another version of me somewhere? … riveting images, an intriguing scenario and a fabulous performance from Irene Jacob.

For serious film fans, Aztec offers a small but excellent library of Louis Malle and Jacques Demy films, including Malle’s wartime character drama Lacombe Lucien

and the fabulous Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud (Lift to the Scaffolds)

featuring Miles Davis at his most haunting. He improvised the score playing trumpet while watching the film. It’s unforgettable – so is the film, a thriller with a young Jeanne Moreau and a striking story very well told.

The Jacques Demy collection includes his two classics, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

and The Young Girls of Rochefort

Published September 10, 2009

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NOTE: to purchase any of the films in the Aztec library, go to www.aztecinternational.com.au and click on ‘mail order’ at left, then locate the title and select.

The Blue Dahlia

The Double Life of Veronique


Ben X

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Young Girls of Rochefort

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