In Praise of Rapace


No one is quite like Noomi, as an actor or executive producer.

In this era of actors as independent contractors, it's not unusual for them to chart their own destinies. They form production companies, hire experts, and carefully plan their careers, not just as artists but as commercial commodities. For example, Nicole Kidman has transitioned from feature films to TV and kept her star power intact. Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Productions has made her a household name not just for acting but for her book club. Margot Robbie is feverishly filling up her cafeteria tray, starring in as many movies as she can, as if in a race with time (reminiscent of Alicia Vikander's comet-like path a few years back when she appeared in practically in every studio release).

One of the most intriguing trajectories is that of Noomi Rapace. Originally from Sweden, where she racked up a heap of TV credits, Rapace (pronounced rah-pahs) first came to prominence in the Swedish TV adaptation of Stieg Larson's Millennium series in 2010. While David Fincher's U.S. film of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is a casebook excursion into Neo Noir, it's a one shot. The Swedish version takes its time: it covers all three books and its six-plus-hours of finely tuned psychological drama that stars Michael Nyqvist. But we most remember Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. The series launched her international career.

Since then, she's appeared in films large and small, from Brian DePalma's Passion to Ridley Scott's Prometheus. She continues to do TV as well, recent examples being Amazon's Jack Ryan and the Sky Atlantic series Django.

When she's onscreen, it's tough to take one's eyes off her. She of those impossible cheekbones and a face the shape of an inverted teardrop. She reads as wild yet fiercely intelligent, a force to reckon with. She plays to her strengths, making the most of her compact frame. She is often cast as a warrior, a cop or soldier (she looks great in a uniform).

Which makes her choices as a project developer even more intriguing. Rapace is credited as executive producer on nine films so far, including Bruce Lee and the Outlaw (2018), Oxygen (2021), and the upcoming Hearts of Stone. Lately, her name appears on films heavily based in folklore. The first of these is a contemporary Bigfoot drama set on the Swedish countryside. Lamb (2021), directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson, is confounding, nearly wordless, and visually stunning, set apart by its astute use of CGI. Rapace plays a modern-day shepherd, a childless mother who welcomes a bizarre newborn. Its conceit could seem foolish if it wasn't so rooted in what appears to be myth.

You Won't Be Alone (dir. Goran Stolevski, 2022) is set in a medieval village, and is an invocation of witch-hood rather than witchcraft. In a class with Robert Egger's 2015 The Witch, it's a tone poem: the camera stays right on top of the characters as a nature spirit -- the witch -- jumps from person to person, possessing the denizens on by one. In the film, the spirit is a fact rooted in cultural myth rather than simply a fright device. Think Terrence Malick, all whispers and whimsey. That would be You Won't Be Alone. Rapace plays a feral creature imitating the humans around her to go undetected. Here, she is part of an ensemble, and her brief appearance is mesmerizing. Her acting style is naturalistic, and coupled with her unique looks and rhythms perfectly convincing. She presents as an authentic artifact of an ancient era.

Rapace was executive producer on both these films. She performs in them as well (she does not always appear in the films she produces). It's her bent toward this style of storytelling that intrigues. Mythmaking is storytelling at its most basic. It tells us how to live with each other and suggests our origins. Even if seen only as metaphoric, it has lessons to teach. These films are serious, not just straight-to-VOD actioners. They appear heavily researched, and if not, then richly imagined.

Is a pattern emerging? Considering only two films is, of course, too soon to tell. But Noomi Rapace's trajectory is well worth watching.

(The accompanying photo is from You Won't Be Alone, 2022.)

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