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Posted August 02, 2011 to photo album "Déjà vu"
In adapting the Israeli thriller <em>Ha-Hov</em> into <em>The Debt</em>, John Madden enters the cinematic tradition of remaking foreign language films for English-speaking audiences. We look at some of the best foreign language adaptations, from transforming Kurosawa into a American western to popularizing Japanese horror.
Insomnia (1997) to Insomnia (2002)
After announcing himself as an inventive and masterful filmmaker with Memento, Christopher Nolan then went on to make a much more low-key, understated movie, Insomnia, a remake of Erik Skjoldbjærg's 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. The original movie was a drably shot psychological thriller about a detective (Stellan Skarsgård) with a checkered past who accidentally shoots his partner while pursuing a killer in the Scandinavian wilds. The grizzled cop's bid to catch the murderer is undermined by both his guilt (which prevents him from sleeping) and his need to cover up his culpability in his partner's death. Described by critic Peter Cowie as “European cinema at its most challenging,” the film won major praise on its release and was distributed worldwide. Skjoldbjærg himself was actually asked to remake the film in Hollywood, but turned down the opportunity, saying he did not want to make the same film twice. Nolan, however, was very interested in the possibilities that a remake of Insomnia presented. “I think it has a fascinating and very evocative psychological situation,” he said in an interview. “A great moral dilemma that is taken one direction in the original movie, and I think it's a great movie, but as I saw it, it occurred to me that you could by changing the characters take the same situation, the same intense psychological relationship between the two main characters and take it in a rather different direction and create a different kind of moral paradox.” The moral dimension Nolan added in his version stems from the discovery by the troubled detective, played in the remake by Al Pacino, that his partner is about to testify against him regarding his misconduct on a previous investigation. As a result, the accidental death of the partner becomes even more loaded, as Pacino's cop is haunted by the knowledge that his partner believed he intentionally shot him for disloyalty – and the fear that subconsciously he did, in fact, mean to kill him. Comparing Nolan's movie with Skjoldbjærg's, Roger Ebert wrote that the original “was a strong, atmospheric, dread-heavy film, and so is this one. Unlike most remakes, the Nolan Insomnia is not a pale retread, but a re-examination of the material, like a new production of a good play.”