Producers: Lene Børglum Director: Anders Refn Screenplay: Anders Refn and Flemming Quist Møller Cast: Jesper Christensen, Bodil Jørgensen, Mads Reuther, Gustav Dyekjær Giese, Sara Viktoria Bjerregaard, Lue Dittmann Støvelbæk, Sylvester Byder, Pernille Højmark, Steen Stig Lommer, Kathrine Thorborg Johansen, Cyron Melville, Paul Hüttel, Roman Schomburg, Julie Agnete Vang, Peter Eggers, Claes Malmberg, Melinda Kinnaman, Joel Spira, Jesper Zuschlag, Patricia Schumann, Anne Marie Helger, Anders Heinrichsen, Anna Stokholm, Birthe Neumann, Peter Schrøder, Tommy Kenter, Malte-Joe Frid-Nielsen, Ulver Skuli Abilgaard, Lisa Carlehed, Lars Simonsen, Jesper Lohrmann, Magnus Juhl Andersen and Ulrich Hoppe Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
The suffering of the Scandinavian countries during the initial Nazi attacks on western Europe in the summer of 1940 has suddenly become a major topic on American screens large and small. On PBS the “Atlantic Crossing” mini-series is dramatizing how the German invasion impacted Norway, especially its royal family. Now Anders Refn’s film offers a fictional account of the virtually bloodless imposition of German control over Denmark, as reflected in its effect on a well-to-do industrialist’s large family.
“Into the Darkness” is apparently meant as a case study in how naiveté gradually morphed into a reluctant acceptance of grim reality, and principle eroded into compromise and regret. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately the script by Refn and Flemming Quist Møller is too cluttered, disjointed and ultimately inconclusive to register much of an emotional impact. That might be explained by the fact that it’s apparently intended as the first part of a trilogy, but the lack of a “to be continued” caption at the close creates a feeling of being left hanging even though the outcome of the war is hardly in doubt.
The magnate is Karl Stov (Jesper Christensen), owner of an electronics factory. He and his wife Eva (Bodil Jørgensen) are celebrating their anniversary with their children—Aksel (Mads Reuther), Helene (Sara Viktoria Bjerregaard), Knud (Lue Dittmann Støvelbæk) and Valdemar (Sylvester Byder), as well as Michael (Gustav Dyekjær Giese), Karl’s son by a previous marriage—just as German planes roar overhead.
The disparate directions that family members take in the aftermath of the occupation form the crux of the plot. Karl believes that his local connections will be able to keep the family secure and the factory running, even though its business with England will be curtailed. As the war continues, however, he is pressured to collaborate with the country’s Nazi masters, turning over his firm’s capacities to the production of parts obviously intended for the German war effort. Eva is more openly anti-Nazi from the start, especially after Veronika and Franz (Melinda Kinnaman and Joel Spira), two Jewish friends fleeing Germany, are taken into custody by the local police; Karl assures her he’ll be able to arrange their release, but instead they’re returned to Germany, and later it’s reported that they were shot while trying to escape.
As to the younger generation, little need be said of Knud and Valdemar, aspiring jazz musicians who play at a club where far too much of the action is set; they remain largely peripheral characters
Aksel, Helene and Michael are another matter. Aksel is radicalized through his friendship with Svend (Cyron Melville), the son of the Stov’s cook and a member of the communist-led resistance, and his attraction to Liva (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen), Svend’s beautiful comrade-in-arms. By the close of the film in 1943, he has become a committed member of the resistance himself, using his knowledge of chemistry to assist in their sabotage efforts. This causes a rift with his ever-cautious father.
By contrast Michael, a Danish soldier, is initially incensed at the thought of kowtowing to the German military, but abruptly changes his attitude after meeting Willi (Roman Schomburg), a handsome, sophisticated submarine commander. Growing increasingly pro-German, he joins a Danish force that fights alongside the Wehrmacht in the field. He also introduces Willi to Helene, who falls hopelessly in love with him despite Eva’s misgivings. One might have thought they would have been put off by Willi’s shark-like smile, but no, they must learn the lesson of Nazi cruelty in other ways—Michael by being forced to participate in atrocities on the eastern front, and Helene by coming face-to-face with the German treatment of Danish Jews.
Although the script never develops these characters very deeply despite a running-time of two-and-a-hours—there are simply too many of them, and numerous others in their orbit—the performances are generally good, though mostly one-note. Nor, despite an impressive sense of period, thanks to the production design by Sarah Maria Fritsche and costumes of Anne-Dorthe Eskildsen, is the film especially attractive visually, since rather than a straightforward, “Masterpiece Theatre” style, cinematographers Morten Søborg and Claus Sisseck opt for a more jittery hand-held approach that, while combined with less-than-crisp editing by Michael Aglund, results in an unsettled feel. The score by Nikolaj Hess is okay, though the jazz interludes are, perhaps intentionally, pretty mediocre.
One might also note that the film is rather sparse with detailed historical context. The anti-Bolshevism of the collaborators, especially the haughty businessmen, is depicted without nuance, and the particulars of Danish politics are presumed rather than explained. (When Aksel participates in a demonstration in which he denounces Scavenius, it helps to know that he was the pro-German Prime Minister at the time.)
That points to the reality that “Into the Darkness” will be far more meaningful to Danish audiences than to those of other nations. But it does carry some power as a fairly universal portrait of a family that splinters under pressure from malignant forces.