The King’s Choice (2016) A Norwegian Masterpiece

The King’s Choice is a Norwegian movie about King Haakon VII’s difficult decision after the German invasion of Norway. Last year, I watched and reviewed April, 9 which tells of the speedy invasion of Denmark. It’s an amazing movie because it tells a story that is lesser known. The King’s Choice does the same for Norway and also begins on April, 9. If you’re familiar with the role of the Nordic countries during WWII, you’ll know that Norway didn’t surrender within a few hours like Denmark, but that they put up a fight which lasted several months.

I’m a bit ashamed to admit how little I knew of the history of these two countries. I had no idea that the king of Denmark was the king of Norway’s brother. Haakon VII was the first, democratic elected king of Norway. He became king in 1905, after the union with Sweden ended. The movie tells us about that at the beginning and shows a lot of amazing original footage.

Like in the UK, the king wasn’t ruling, but the parliament was and, so, when the Germans invaded and occupied the Norwegian ports, it was up to the government to decide what to do.

Hitler needed Norway just as much as he needed Denmark, because of the long coast line, but also, in Norway’s case, because the country was rich in sources of iron ore. Pretending that Norway was threatened by England, who allegedly was going to invade Norway, Hitler offered his protection under one condition — immediate surrender.

The movie explores how difficult it was for the government to make a decision. Many thought that surrendering would be the safest choice. In the end, lacking determination, they relied on the king to make a choice. By the time the king met the German ambassador, Norway had already been under fire. The king and his family were in grave danger. The king eventually made a decision, but he didnn’t want to reveal it because he felt, that the decision should be made democratically. In the end, he just informed them of what he would do, in case of immediate surrender – abdicate.

The choice King Haakon made is admirable for many reasons, but also because he wasn’t well. He was very frail, suffering from terrible back aches. The war put an immense strain on him personally but he never thought of himself when making his decision.

A movie like this could have gone many ways. It could have been dry and boring or too educational. It was nothing of the sort. It was a pure joy to watch. I was so impressed with Jesper Christensen who played Haakon VII. He’s spectacular. Haakon was an old man, suffering from terrible back aches. Watching Christensen play this role, it’s hard to believe he’s younger and healthy. I wasn’t surprised to find out that he’s a stage actor. You can always tell when a movie actor is also a theater actor. The role of the German ambassador was played by the German actor Karl Marcovics, another seasoned actor.

The acting alone makes this movie well-worth seeing, but then there was the mood and the atmosphere which was absolutely wonderful. It’s very mournful and melancholic as befits the topic. (The superlatives are chasing each other in this review). Cinematography, music, and acting went hand in hand to create a beautiful and very moving film. I would go as far and say it’s a work of art. No wonder it was nominated for an Academy Award.

This is certainly the perfect companion piece to April, 9.

Do yourself a favour  and watch it.

 

 

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Alone in Berlin (2016) Vincet Perez’ Rehash of an Old Classic

Alone in Berlin is a UK/German/Frenvh co-production based on the novel Everyone Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. The recent English publication of Fallada’s novel was so successful that it’s not surprising it was made into a movie although there are already three German versions.

Everyone Dies Alone (1962 West German film; Jeder stirbt für sich allein)

Jeder stirbt für sich allein (1970 East German miniseries)

Everyone Dies Alone (1976 West German film; Jeder stirbt für sich allein)

Alone in Berlin tells the story of Anna and Otto Quangel (Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson) who lost their son in 1940 in France. This loss shakes the couple. They are disgusted with the Nazy government and decide to fight it. They begin to write subversive postcards, leaving them all over Berlin. The postcards are meant to wake up the Germans in the hope that they too will start to resist. Unfortunately, almost all of the postcards are brought to the Gestapo offices.

A police detective, Escherich (Daniel Brühl), has been assigned to hunt them. When the wrong man is arrested and executed, Escherich starts to have his own doubts about the government.

Even though the movie is based on a true story, I’m not going to say more since many readers of this blog might not be familiar with it.

While I haven’t seen any of the older versions, I’m pretty sure, that they are all better than this terrible film. I haven’t read Fallada’s novel but I’ve read other books by him and he’s an amazing writer.  I’m pretty sure, this novel is amazing too, so why was this such an awful movie?

First, there’s my pet peeve – the language. It would have been so easy to cast German actors and film this in German, but no, they had to cast Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson and let them speak English with German accents. Awful, awful, awful. And ludicrous. Why could they not just speak plain English? After about half an hour I had to switch to the dubbed German version. I can tell you – when I prefer the dubbed version  of a film, then there’s something very wrong.

That alone would have been enough for me not to like this film, but it’s also terrible for other reasons. While Hollywood has been known to dramatize the crap out of some minor historical event, this version robbed it of any of its dramatic potential. Watching an ad for washing powder is more suspenseful than this movie. The only story line that was mildly captivating was the transformation of the detective.

Although I think Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson are both outstanding actors, one wouldn’t guess, watching this. Maybe they were told that, on top of the fake accents, they had to keep all the emotions out of their faces. Daniel Brühl isn’t doing a bad job, but he too wasn’t allowed to show his potential.

What a missed opportunity. Was there anything good about this, you may wonder? Actually, yes, and that makes it even more infuriating. It’s beautifully shot. Really appealing.

Too bad pretty pictures don’t make up for ludicrous fake accents and boring dramaturgy.

 

The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) A US WWI Air Combat Movie

the-eagle-and-the-hawk

I’d never heard of  The Eagle and the Hawk before seeing it included in a war movie collection box that I ordered from the US. I’m happy to say that it was a real surprise. At one hour and eight minutes, it’s rather on the short side but it still packs a punch. Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives, A Star is Born) and Cary Grant (North by Northwest, Notorious, To Catch a Thief)  star in this unjustly overlooked black and white WWI anti-war, air combat drama. And there’s even a short scene with the stunning Carole Lombard (To Be or Not to Be, Mr and Mrs Smith)

Jerry Young (Frederic March) and Henry Crocker (Cary Grant) are both pilots but while Young is talented and careful, Crocker is rather foolhardy. That’s why, when they are called to got to France, Young makes sure, Crocker isn’t summoned. One can understand why because not only is he not the best pilot, but he’s also cranky and mean-spirited.

Once in Europe, Young’s quickly covered in medals. While many pilots envy him for that, he’s getting more and more depressed. Not only is he shocked to lose all of his young observers after only a few missions, but he also hates to shoot down enemy planes.

He’s more than a little surprised when he discovers that his newest observer, who has just come over from the US, is no other than Crocker. They didn’t like each other in the US but now this dislike turns into hate. Especially since Crocker treats killing like a sport, while Young’s sinking deeper and deeper into his depression. The true conflict however stems from Crocker’s attitude towards the enemy. Even in war, there are some rules, but he just doesn’t stick to them and does a few atrocious things.

When Young shoots down Alfred Voss, one of the most highly decorated German pilots, he earns everyone’s respect but cannot forgive himself for killing a mere boy.

Seeing a decorated pilot suffer from his own victories, isn’t something I’ve seen often in war movies but it’s not entirely new. What was different though, was Cary Grant’s character’s development. I thought this was genuinely well done and led to a surprising end twist that I’m not going to forget soon.

I’ve seen people comment on the scene with Carole Lombard, calling it superfluous. In my opinion, it gives the movie a bitter-sweet quality and foreshadows tragic events.

It’s a neat, short movie with two interesting character portraits, a very outspoken anti-war message, a few pretty good air combat scenes and a great and surprising ending.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a trailer, which isn’t surprising as it’s a movie from the 30s.

Land of Mine – Under Sandet (2015) An Outstanding Danish/German Post-War Movie

land-of-mine

How many WWII and post-war stories haven’t been told yet? How many atrocities have we not heard of? There must be a huge number. It’s important that we hear about them. Many stories help us see what happened in a new light, add something to the discussion about war and post-war. And some of them are even important for the understanding of contemporary issues. The fantastic Danish-German co-production Land of Mine – Under Sandet is one of those. While it doesn’t tell a true story, it’s inspired by facts. As Martin Zandvliet, film director and writer of this movie, said in an interview, these facts show us how quickly people can become a monster when they fight monsters. Some of what he said and some of what we see in the movie, sounded and looked all too familiar.

At the opening of the movie we see Sgt Carl Rasmussen freak out. He sees a German POW carrying a Danish flag. This infuriates him so much, he beats the guy up. The war is over and there are hundreds of German POWs returning home. The Danish hate them. Rasmussen hates them so much, he almost kills the German soldier.

Maybe this hatred of the enemy makes his superior decide he’s qualified for the job he is going to give him. There are 2,200,000 million land mines buried on the Danish beaches. No other country has this many and it’s obviously vital that they should be dug up and defused. It also seems natural to use German soldiers to do that.

For Rasmussen this is only logical—Germans planted the mines, Germans will have to defuse them. If the one or the other dies – all the better.  What he doesn’t expect however is that the POW’s he is sent are very young soldiers. Almost kids. The oldest is nineteen. But Rasmussen soon overcomes his initial hesitation and the dangerous work begins.

Over the course of the movie, we watch the young people dig up thousands of mines and defuse them. It’s horrible work and watching them had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I don’t think there’s anything that gets to me as much as watching movies about bomb disposal teams. Be that The English Patient, The Hurt Locker, the UK TV series Danger UXB or this movie, Land of Mines. Every time someone starts to dig up, we know there’s a huge risk. Those scenes are always agonizingly slow. I had to brace myself for whatever would happen. Many lose limbs, many lose their lives.

The movie’s not an action movie. It’s a psychological exploration and a character study. Rasmussen may hate Germans but he doesn’t want to mistreat kids. Nor does he want to see them maimed or dead.

The movie shows subtly, how they begin to understand each other. How there’s some sort of camaraderie between them and how fragile that is.

This is such and excellent, harrowing movie. Such an emotional rollercoaster ride. The actors, many of which had never acted before, are outstanding. There are many small stories, relationships, friendships, that make the losses, the danger all the more poignant. I can’t say too much or it would spoil the film.

I hadn’t heard of these historical facts before, wasn’t aware of the number of land mines or that they used German children to defuse them. Not many survived. It’s a shocking story. It’s shocking to realize how easily people start to hate people and wouldn’t hesitate to take revenge. Even in a case like this, in which so many of the enemy soldiers hadn’t even seen battle and mostly hadn’t volunteered to go to war.

The movie is as much about a forgotten dark side of Denmark’s history as it is about keeping our humanity. No matter what.

I hope that I managed to capture how amazing this movies is. It’s hard to watch, at times almost unbearable, but so rewarding.

 

Riphagen (2016) The True Story of a Dutch Traitor

riphagen

A couple of days ago, I watched the excellent Dutch movie Riphagen, based on the true story of the “Al Capone of Amsterdam”, Dries Riphagen. I’m still speechless, I was so caught up in the story. What a vile creature.

It’s often difficult to review a movie based on a true story because one doesn’t know how much one can give away. In the case of a movie based on a famous historical figure, it might be OK to give away the ending but I don’t think Riphagen is universally known. That’s why I’ll only write about the beginning. The fact that I was left speechless at the end, will possibly tell you a few things though.

Dries Riphagen was a criminal from Amsterdam who collaborated with the German occupiers during WWII. He befriended Jewish people, sniffing out those with a vast network, and promised them safety and secure hiding places. Hinting at possible searches, he managed to convince them that they should hand over their belongings, jewelry, precious stones, money, for safekeeping. He then had someone take a picture of himself with the Jews he robbed and stored those away, already thinking ahead. If the war would take a turn and Germany would lose, he’d use the photos with these smiling Jews as proof of his good intentions. As soon as he had received all of the possessions of his “charges” he denounced them to the Gestapo, revealing their hiding places.

Using Jews whose families had been deported, he infiltrated the resistance, promising his Jewish collaborators that their families would be saved.

Needless to say, Riphagen wasn’t keen on seeing WWII end but he was cunning enough to use the general chaos to infiltrate the new government. While many traitors and collaborators were caught, Riphagen managed to use his knowledge and cunning to make even more money after the war.

Riphagen is without morals or conscience and such a master manipulator and liar, that he’s even capable of making the authorities believe that some of his crimes were actually committed by people of the resistance. That puts those in great danger but it also triggers their hatred. For the first time, Riphagen does actually fear for his own life as one resistance member has sworn to hunt him down.

That’s where I’ll end my review. If you are not familiar with the story, you’ll like to discover for yourself how it all ends.

While not as flashy as Black Book, this is another highly watchable Dutch movie. It certainly works well as a companion piece. While Black Book is about the Dutch resistance, Riphagen is about Dutch collaboration. I wasn’t familiar with any of the actors, but they were very convincing. Riphagen tells an extraordinary story and offers a lot to think about. Highly recommended.

I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles but the movie’s available with subtitles on Netflix

Two Questions for my Readers – WWII Movie Related

tarantino

It’s been a while since I last wrote a question post but I just got two comments with interesting questions and would really like to know the answers to those as well.

Here’s question 1

Hi, I’ve been looking for a war romance film for years but to no avail

Two German soldiers are left in command of a small French village during WWII and not surprisingly are not liked by the locals. One of the soldiers falls in love with a local girl and they have a secret romance. The two German soldiers then risk their lives to take an injured resistance fighter to hospital (I seem to remember that they use a motorbike and sidecar to do this) One of the german soldiers is killed and at the end of the war as France is liberated the grateful locals keep the other German soldier safe. The film starts off with students picking lavender on a French farm many years after the war, the owners are the german man and French woman – when they are asked how that came to be they tell the story of their war romance

And question 2

I have a question for everyone…. ( . . . ) I am currently sitting here watching a good WWII movie called Black Book which is based on true events . Anyway to the point I have watched many German Austrian and other international war movies and continuously noticed that the Nazi patches and rank and insignias are all not shown or removed from the uniforms in many movies …. can someone please explain this to me. Also I am a second generation U.S citizen.

If anyone knows the answers to these questions, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

Bridge of Spies (2015) Spielberg’s Cold War Epic (Fail)

Bridge of Spies

Before anyone’s going to tell me that I should have known better, I’ll admit it right away—Yes, I should have known better and not even bothered watching Bridge of Spies. It had everything I don’t like about some Spielberg movies: length, sentimentality, hokeyness and Tom Hanks. So, why watch it? You know, it could have been good. Every once in a while Spielberg produces something really decent. And I’ve seen films with Tom Hanks I liked (Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia, Road to Perdition). And since it was based on true events, I thought it would at least be interesting. And it was.  If only they had cut at least half an hour. And abstained from a super-corny ending.

So, what’s it about. Tom Hanks is an American lawyer, Donovan, who is hired to defend a Russian spy. The US want to make sure that they are perceived as just and fair. Donovan is a lawyer who has no experience in criminal law, nonetheless, he’s giving his best, which isn’t wanted. He soon finds out that no matter how good his defence is, he will never get his client free as the verdict’s been agreed upon a long time ago. It’s a bogus trial.

Donovan is one of those typical Spielberg characters who rise above themselves when they see injustice and don’t shy away from putting themselves in danger. While he isn’t able to free the spy, he’s able to avoid the death penalty and he’s clever enough to make the authorities understand that a Russian spy, if left alive, could come in handy. And he’s right. Very soon they will be able to use the spy to free one of their own.

So far, I liked the movie but then comes the second part, in which Donovan is hired by the CIA to arrange the exchange of Rudolf Abel against a captured American pilot, Francis Gary Powers, whose U2 spy plane was shot down during a mission over Russia.

Donovan is sent to East Berlin to arrange the exchange. It’s 1961 and the wall has just been built. During those chaotic days, an American student is captured because he’s suspected to be a spy. Donovan hears of this and during the second part of the movie, we see him negotiate with the Russians and the Eastern Germans to exchange Abel against both Americans.

The second half of the movie suffered from terrible lengths. The filmmakers tried to make it gripping, accentuating how dangerous the territory was, but they didn’t succeed because the discussions between the involved parties were stiff and slow and full of clichés. I was tempted to fast-forward.

The hardest part to watch was the ending. It was just so painfully corny. There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie, in which a woman on a train looks scornfully at Donovan because he defends a Russian spy. The very same woman can be seen looking at him with great admiration and gratefulness at the end. These are the kind of corny, sentimental scenes that make me shudder.

As I said before, I’m not that keen on Tom Hanks or Spielberg but they have both done great, or at least entertaining movies. This wasn’t one of them.

Meanwhile, I’ve done some digging and it doesn’t even look as if the movie was historically accurate.

Have you seen it? Did you like it?