Arn: Knight Templar aka Arn: Tempelriddaren (2007) or A Fantastic Movie about the Crusades

What a fantastic movie. A lavish historical epic with likable characters and a great story. So much better than Kingdom of Heaven although that is not a bad movie at all. Only, I did not care much about the characters and the story. Big difference here. Arn: Knight Templar makes you care. You want to know what happens, you feel outrage when the main characters suffer wrong and you admire them and enjoy watching them.

Based on the novels by Jan Guillou this multinational co-production (we hear at least 5 different languages: Swedish, English, French, Arabic and Latin) centers on Arn, the son of a Swedish noble man. He falls in love with Cecilia, who is promised to another man. When their love is found out they are sentenced. Cecilia is to spend her days in a convent, Arn must join the Knight Templars and travel to the Holy Land. He will experience the brutality of the Crusades but still remain true to himself and stay just, courageous and open-minded. Cecilia on her side endures many hardships. The worst is certainly that they take away her newborn son, as he has been conceived in sin.

We see many a battle scene, breathtaking landscapes (the movie was filmed in Sweden, Scotland and Morocco) and we wonder once more how people can fight bloody battles in the name of religion.

Even though a major part of it,  the battles, the fights and the beauty of the scenery are not the the only good aspects of the movie. The depiction of the Middle Ages, centering on a bloodthirsty Catholicism,  is what makes this movie memorable. How horrible the Catholicism of those times has been, with its belief in sin and eternal damnation, its attempt to spread the faith all over this world, and even in bringing warfare to every corner of the earth. And the way they treated women and people of other faiths… Abominable.

Last but not least this is also a beautiful love story.

The cast is quite interesting. We see, once more, Stellan Skarsgard, but also Vincent Perez, Milind Soman, Bibi Andersson (she gives a chilling performance as a frankly sadistic nun), Sofia Helin and, starring as Arn, Joakim Nätterqvist.

I have a seen the shorter version. There are apparently two. I believe the longer one is better. A word of caution: there is some weird jumping in the time going on. This needs some getting used to. Maybe it is due to the cuts.

Be it as it may, watch it as soon as you can. You won´t regret it.

Taking Sides (2001) or The Denazification of a Legend

Istvan Szabo’s Taking Sides tells the story of the so-called Denazification of one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, Helmut Furtwängler. (As can be read in the Jewish Virtual Library Denazification was the name given to “the efforts made by the Allies to remove active members of the former National Socialist Party from official public office and influential positions in Germany after World War II.”). The events take place in post-war Berlin. Furtwängler was the conductor of the Berlin Philarmonic. Before going to trial he is being questioned by an American investigator, Major Arnold, who shows no mercy and treats him not much different from the way the Gestapo treated people they questioned. Whatever Furtwängler says is taken against him. When he has nothing to say it is taken against him as well. This is a witch-hunt. There is not much action in this movie that’s why the two actors had to be extremely good. And they are. Harvey Keitel as the self-righteous Major who conducts the investigation is excellent. But Stellan Skarsgard starring as Furtwängler is amazing. This is sublime acting. I always liked him but in this movie he proves to be capable of acting far beyond the average.

Furtwängler is accused to have been a member of the Nazi party, to have been friends with Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels. To have known what was going on but to choose to stay anyway. It becomes soon clear that none of this is true and therefore Major Arnold tries to prove him at least morally guilty. Even though he has helped many Jews to escape, Arnold thinks his staying is reproachable. There is a lot of food for thought in this movie. Furtwängler seems to have believed that music and art could better people and that it was his duty to stay. But he was also naïve to an incredible extent. An intellectual living in an ivory tower.

Before starting to question him and during the weeks of the interrogation Arnold watches movies of the concentration camps. The original footage we get to see is one of the most horrible I ever seen. A huge mass of naked emaciated bodies are being shoved away like dirt… This fuels Arnolds’s hatred and lets him lose the right perspective.

One of the best elements of the movie is the clash of these two personalities; the gentle, well-mannered, soft-spoken old-world artist and the aggressive, vulgar and ignorant American major.

The movie does not only take place in the interrogation room. We follow the two young assistants of the major (played by Moritz Bleibtreu and Birgit Minichmayr), both German, one of Jewish origin and just returned from the States, on their outings in the city. This adds a further dimension to the film and we get a feel for post-war Berlin.

Taking Sides has also one of the most beautiful moments I have ever seen in a war movie. In an eerily beautiful scene we see an orchestra play in a ruin in the pouring rain.

As stated before, apart from being interesting, fascinating and underlined by beautiful classical recordings (Beethoven, Bruckner) this movie lives from the actors. The leading actors are outstanding but the supporting actors are very good too.

At times Taking Sides reminded me of Judgement at Nuremberg.

This is a movie for people interested in the post-war era, Denazification, classical music, Furtwängler and moral questions tied to WWII Germany. Is it understandable that Furtwängler stayed? Would it have been worse if all the good people had left? Are we allowed to think of self-preservation when faced with the mass destruction of others?

Instead of a trailer I decided to include a scene from the movie.

Savior (1998): An Extremely Grim Movie about the War in Bosnia

Thanks to TPC who commented on my post “Welcome to Sarajevo” I discovered this movie and have finally watched it.

Oh – my – God.

Before even trying to attempt to describe this movie let me quote from a NY Times review by Stephen Holden:

As Mr. Quaid’s character, Guy, perilously makes his way through the war-torn countryside, the film portrays a land whose people, regardless of ethnicity, have been reduced to animalistic survival tactics by the violence that has devastated the region. The war has turned seemingly ordinary people into potential murderers, rapists and torturers. And the movie’s unblinking scenes of atrocities are among the most graphic and upsetting ever shown in a commercial film.

This sums up quite a lot. Savior is really heavy stuff and so depressing. The goriest battle scenes from any WWI, WWII or Vietnam movie can never get as depressing as this. Like the war in Rwanda. A tribal war.

Gritty realism is not all we see and I did have my problems with this movie. There is  a very Christian undertone all through it. Or not even an undertone, rather a loud drone. The character change of Guy (Dennis Quaid) is psychologically not very convincing. I can understand that he goes berserk after his wife and his son get blown up in a terrorist attack but from then on… He escapes with his friend (Stellan Skarsgard – not one of his better roles and far too short) to the French Foreign Legion and from there we follow him to Bosnia where he is fighting as a mercenary on the side of the Serbs. We see him commit atrocities until he and another soldier, Goran, get to drive Vera, a pregnant young woman back to her family. She has been raped by a muslim and is now being treated as if it was her fault. Her fellow Serbs hate, blame  and despise her for this. Goran is a brute and what we see him do to an old woman and later to Vera is almost not watchable. I tell you, not for one second do you want to imagine yourself in the situation of one of those women.

The illustration of women as victims in war movies does find its sad culmination point in Savior.

After Vera has given birth under the most inhuman circumstances something snaps in Guy and he seems to reclaim  his humanity. From then on he is “The Savior”. It is not very subtle that the filmmakers chose to show us repeatedly that Guy is wearing  a cross with a three-dimensional Christ nailed to it.

The bleak parts that deal purely with this godforsaken war are overwhelming. Maybe it would really have been too hard to watch if they hadn’t tried to gloss it over a bit. Be is as it may… This movie exudes such an honest try at showing the atrocities of this war that I really think it should be watched. What makes me extremely thoughtful is to think that if these atrocities had been invented by a script writer we would say: “What a sick mind!”. But this did happen… And not even so long ago…

A brief remark about the music. This movie has a very beautiful score, in parts traditional regional folk songs sung by mysteriously haunting female voices. Some of it can be heard in the trailer.

What do you think? Any people from ex Yugoslavia reading this? Is Welcome to Sarajevo the better movie?

I am not sure if Welcome to Sarajevo is better, but it is less controversial. When it comes to liking I must admit I am partial to Savior. I liked it much more than Welcome to Sarajevo. There is something in the character of Guy that I could relate to. Probaly his utter loneliness that encloses him like an aura. This cold sniper personality  he is wearing to shield himself and hide that he has been deeply wounded… I don’t approve of his acts, of course, but from an emotional point of view I think I get him.