Published February 28, 2017
It probably says something about the zeitgeist that, as with the German Film Days, some of the most powerful films at this year’s Stockfish Film Festival deal with war. Or rather, the consequences of war.
‘The King’s Choice’ is a big budget Norwegian film that deals with the German invasion of 1940. After lagging behind the Swedes and the Danes when it comes to film making, the Norwegians have been throwing money at the problem and it shows on the screen. The sinking of the heavy cruiser Blücher is astonishing, and the film does capture a lot of the chaos of having your country invaded.
However, whereas the Danes tend to view the war as tragedy, seen through the prism of their own collaboration and abuses of Germans after the war (witness last year’s harrowing ‘Land of Mine’), the Norwegians tend to view it in more heroic terms. In ‘Max Manus’, we saw the Norwegian resistance putting up a fight, and in the TV series ‘Operation Swallow’, we hear about how they foiled the Nazi attempt to build a nuclear bomb. Here, it’s the King himself who is the hero, refusing to work with the invaders. Different stories could have been told, about how the Norwegian’s refusal to listen to warnings led to a Stalinesque failure, in the first days, and loss of much territory. However, the film is factually accurate, and despite being rather hagiographic, is a good watch. The German ambassador’s attempt to broker a peace deal also adds a little needed nuance.
The Russian film ‘Paradise’ presents a much more complicated view of events. A French collaborator. An aristocratic German Camp Kommandant with a love of Chekov. A Russian princess who flew the revolution only to be arrested for saving Jewish children. Normal people did terrible things, and even the SS guy comes off as a human being, despite his role in murdering millions. More Russians died than any other nationality in World War II. Perhaps that gives them perspective. At the very least, ‘Paradise’ is the best Holocaust film since ‘The Pianist’.
‘Neruda’ is set in South America so, despite taking place in 1947, it doesn’t deal with the consequences of the war. But there were tumultuous times there, too. Chile is slipping into dictatorship, and one of the people opposing it is the poet Pablo Neruda. Interestingly, the film chooses to focus on the attempts of an inept policeman to apprehend him, rather than the great poet himself. Much like in ‘Paradise’, the change in perspective brings out nuances, which is what we need in these Trumpian times. Sure, Neruda is the hero, but he is also a champagne communist of sorts, and the question of whether he was ever in real danger is left open. The policeman, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, is an equally fascinating character.
History comes alive in Bíó Paradís these days. It should stay up on the big screen and not be repeated in real life.
Stockfish Film Festival runs from February 23rd to March 5th at Bíó Paradís, Hverfisgata 54, 101 Reykjavík. For screening times and info go to http://stockfishfestival.is/.