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Chamber play of the war

Finely tuned on the people behind the enemy image

“Into the White” has two back-stories, or sources of inspiration, if you will. They are connected. You can read about one of them in today’s Sideblikk. The other is about the drama which occurred on Strynefjell April 27 1940 when a German bomber was shot down by a British fighter plane which then had to crash land on the mountain. Three surviving Germans and two Brits are forced to seek shelter together in the same cabin near Grotli.

Scriptwriters Old Meldgaard, Dave Mango and Petter Næss recreates quite freely around the event, which was shorter in reality and turned out somewhat differently than in the world of fiction. Just one of the people involved – Horst Schopis – retains his full name. The others have had their first or last name changed. The Brit Charles Davenport was really called Richard Thomas Partridge.

That kind of geekish material is for history buffs.

The most important question in this context is: Have the filmmakers managed to make a well-functioning story? The answer is an unequivocal yes.

The story begins in a large and desolate landscape. The white mountains provide the setting to the initial drama; the shooting down of the planes and the struggle to find shelter. The mountains are indisputable Norwegian. At the same time, it is a concrete and metaphorical no-man’s-land, which limits visibility and perception of distance is wiped out by the snow.

Then gradually, the story moves into a chamber play. The three Germans who arrive at the cabin. The two Brits who show up a little while later. The hostility thickens under stress of the tight, miserable conditions illustrated by the lack of water and firewood. The struggle for power and the struggle for dignity, changing groupings.

And then, slowly, the crackling enemy image. The people and personalities that emerge as the situation requires more and more cooperation.

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated “War Horse” touches upon some of the same things, in a scene where soldiers from different sides of the First World War’s trenches meet in no-man’s-land and work together to rescue Joey the horse.

It’s certainly unfair to compare a detached sequence in a two and a half hour long epic film to a film that exclusively focuses on that theme. The comparison still has relevance because it says something about the approach to the subject. Where Spielberg wraps his likely criticism of war in grand kitsch and superficial sentimentality, Næss uses a background of planks as a minimalistic venue for a quiet depth investigation of group dynamics and individual ties, without grand gestures or exaggerations, and with a deep humanism at the bottom of it.

At the same time, we are witnessing an ensemble play of a certain degree, performed by actors who perfectly inhabit their types and characters.

Three grouping develop: firstly, between the affirmed Nazi Joseph Schwartz (David Kross from the Oscar-winner “The Reader”) and Robert Smith (Harry Potter star Rupert Grint) – a cheeky working class boy from Liverpool. At the bottom of pecking order, they begin to pick on each other.

Then between Smith and the little talkative Strunk – played by Stig Henrik Hoff in a way that not only lives up to the character’s name, but also shows what an impressive actor Hoff is when he is given material to work with.

However, most interesting is the subtle interaction between Schopis (Florian Lukas) and Charles Davenport (Lachlan Nieboer). Both characterized by their military degree and code of honor, both with a refined upper-class feel. The air between them is full of a distinctive mixture of respect, competitiveness and friendly – possibly even erotic – attraction. The latter lies as an almost palpable, unreleased tension in the second half of the film and creates a fruitful charge, without getting oppressive for even a minute.

“Into the White” is universal, and therefore relevant. The film never becomes sentimental, just riveting, and at times also very witty.

Translated by Malene.

Original article found here: | March 7, 2012

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