Norway’s head start

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IT’S Norway’s turn to bring Nordic noir to the screen in the wake of The Killing from Denmark and Sweden’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Wallender.

Jo Nesbo’s novels are already international best-sellers but Headhunters (Cert 15) is his first thriller outside his Harry Hole cop series.

A Cat in Paris' Dir. Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

A Cat in Paris' Dir. Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

The protagonist is Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a man who appears to have it made with a luxurious home, a job as a corporate headhunter and a trophy wife.

However, beneath the surface he has insecurities – first about his lack of height but more seriously the fact he is living beyond his means even with a lucrative sideline in art thefts. But then he learns of the whereabouts of one of the most sought after paintings in the world and sees a way out of his financial problems for good.

But embarking on the dangerous heist he soon finds he is out of his league as a criminal and enters a dark and vicious world where he can trust no one.

It has moments of extreme violence and the plot becomes scarcely credible as the action accelerates but what’s clever about Nesbo’s story is that our view of Brown changes as his plight worsens. At the outset he seems a pretty despicable character but nothing compared to his adversaries and by the end we are pulling for him.

AKSEL HENNIE as Roger Brown in Jo Nesbo's HEADHUNTERS released in the UK on April 6th 2012

AKSEL HENNIE as Roger Brown in Jo Nesbo's HEADHUNTERS released in the UK on April 6th 2012

The unexpected recipient of an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, A Cat in Paris (Cert PG) is a winning combination of picturebook charm and film noir know-how.

Dino is the feline pet of a little girl called Zoe, whose mother is a workaholic Paris detective whose preoccupation is to try and bring to book the man who killed her husband and left them grief-stricken. Zoe is too traumatised to speak.

The cat lives a double life, though, sneaking out at night to join a cat burglar called Nico, the pair gracefully bounding over the rooftops of Paris and dropping softly through windows to plunder rich houses.

One night Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures - and falls into the hands of Victor Costa, the wanted man, and his gang of bumbling thieves. Nico, a thief whose heart is in the right place, and Dino spring into action to save Zoe while evading the police who are on the same mission. It all leads to a climax atop Notre Dame.

Being shown with English dialogue, A Cat in Paris, directed by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, has a lovely retro visual style, all elegant shadows and subtle colours recalling the Matisse and Picasso of Thirties Paris, matched by its cool jazzy score.

Sean Penn appears as never before in This Must Be the Place (Cert 15). He is reclusive Eighties pop star Cheyenne living in a state of nervous boredom in exile in a Dublin mansion with a devoted wife (Frances McDormand) and an entourage of eccentrics. After a meandering first act that introduces a succession of characters to little purpose, the action moves to America as Cheyenne hears his estranged father is dying. Arriving in New York in time for the funeral, he learns that the old man had been obsessed with tracking down his Nazi tormentor in Auschwitz during the War who also came to live in the US.

Cheyenne decides to take up the quest and sets off across America to hunt him down, encountering various oddball characters on the way.

Though the film by Paolo Sorrentino (Italian director of Il Divo) is sufficently odd to claim a certain originality it recalls plenty of movies we’ve seen before. Most obviously Paris Texas (Harry Dean Stanton turns up at one point), it also makes you think of Jim Jarmusch and those Wes Anderson parades of eccentrics.

Its wilful quirkiness ought to make it unbearable but somehow it isn’t. That could be down to the extraordinary performance of Penn with his high-pitched voice and his heavy Goth make-up (which amusingly none of the people he encounters appear to notice as being out of the ordinary), mournfully trundling a wheeled case wherever he goes. His character is a strange contradiction of childlike wonder and mature wisdom.

Also on the plus side is the visual flair with which cinematographer Luca Bigazzi invests the scenery, whether a Dublin housing estate or the Grand Canyon, and the soundtrack topped off by David Byrne performing the number that gives the film its title.

On the other hand it is bewilderingly inconsequential which means that to invoke the Holocaust is a bit dubious.