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From Enemies to Friends

In April 1940, two fighter pilots fight each other. A British and a German. Trapped in the wilderness, they seek shelter in the same cabin and through time, they form a friendship. A new film about flying gentlemen and the absurdity of war.

The fact that reality often surpasses fantasy is unquestionable when you hear screenwriter Olde Meldgaard talk about his latest manuscript for the film, Comrade, which is currently in the last phases of editing at Zentropa in Norway.

The film is a war film – or rather an antiwar film – based on a real incident during World War II.

Comrade means friend or co-worker – but this is not about comrades at war, but about declared enemies who are brought together by fate in the wilderness under circumstances that make it absurd to maintain the hostility – and where they see each other as the people they really are after having fought to the death.

War is absurd
The story plays out at the end of April, 1940. The German fighter pilot, Lieutenant Horst Schopis, and the British fighter pilot, Captain Richard T. Partridge, enter an aerial combat against each other, and both the German and the British planes are forced to do an emergency landing in the Norwegian wilderness, where it’s still icy wintertime.

Independently of each other and only a few hours apart, they arrive at the same isolated cabin where they live under the same roof for a while.

Of course, it is impossible to maintain the hostility under these circumstances, and that’s what this film is about, Ole Meldgaard says.

He calls it an antiwar film, and during the film’s two hours – only one shot is fired.

The message is that war is absurd.

Enemies become friends
That war is absurd is also an opinion shared by Horst Schopis, who is 98 years old today, and who has been giving interviews because of the film.

Previously, he has described the events in his book, “Luftkampfgegner wurden Freunde”.

Captain Richard T. Partridge, who was his opponent in the aerial combat has also described the events in a book. He called his book “Operation Skua” named after the type of plane he flew.

The descriptions are similar in the two books, when it comes to the aftermath on land while they disagree on what happened in the aerial combat – especially on whether or not it was a German bullet that caused the British plane to have engine problems and thereby had to do an emergency landing.

Met again
Had Horst Schopis been the big bad Nazi who is often portrayed in films, he wouldn’t have hesitated shooting the British crew when they met in the wilderness. The Germans were armed whereas the British were not.

But he clarifies that he has never been a member of a political party and that when he flew the bombers of the Nazi regime, it was only because this was his job. It was what the German state thought that he should do, he wanted peace himself, he says to Jyllands Posten (The Jutland Post, Danish newspaper).

35 years after Horst Schopis and Richard T. Partridge met each other in an aerial combat 4000 metres up in the air, they met each other again. The occasion was that the British authorities had decided to excavate Richard T. Partridge’s Blackburn Skua, and Horst Schopis lived at Richard T. Partridge’s house in Sussex for a few days.

This led to several phone conversations and one additional visit before Richard T. Partridge died in 1990 – 80 years old.

Writer and teacher
Ole Meldgaard, who is an educated screenwriter from Filmskolen (Film School, Denmark), has previously released the collection of short stories, “Why don’t we ever do anything fantastic” and he has written several manuscripts for tv-series such as “Taxa” and “Defense” – and all 24 episodes of the adult Christmas series, “The Christmas Testament”.

However, he had never imagined that he would be writing a manuscript for a war film, but this is really a very different war film. There are no big war scenes – the film is closer to a “kammerspil” (a Swedish term for a certain type of drama; the definition is: an intense drama with few people in a confined location with particular emphasis on the psychological intensity and meant for close, personal scenes).

Ole Meldgaard was approached by Zentropa after they heard of the story, and when Ole Meldgaard got to know it, it moved him deeply.

“Something clicked inside of me – I wanted to do this story.” He says.

Ole Meldgaard has a good working relationship with the film’s director, Norwegian Petter Næss.

It is an international film with known actors from England, Germany and Norway, for example Rupert Grint, who is known for his role as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, and Florian Lukas who is known from the film, “Goodbye Lenin”.

The film has finished filming, and is now in editing. It is to be shown at a film festival, probably in Berlin, and is expected to premiere in the early summer, 2012.

Besides his education as screenwriter, Ole Meldgaard is also an educated teacher, and teaches at a local school in Dragør – and that is an everyday pleasure, he says.

If you ask about his dreams about his future, the answer falls promptly:

“To keep on being a teacher and then make something big, like this film, every three years or so.”

And then Ole Meldgaard thinks that it would be amazing if Comrade could premiere in the local cinema in Dragør, Dragør Bio.

Original article found here: Dragør Nyt

September 20, 2011

Translation by Malene and Majbritt

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