Into the Darkness

 

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A skilled treatment of the kind of material more usually popular on television. 

 
Into the Darkness
  

Nicolas Winding Refn has made a name for himself in international cinema that gives him a higher profile than his father but in Denmark Andreas Refn is a respected veteran filmmaker. Now with Into the Darkness we have at long last a chance to discover his work. It inhabits a world quite different from anything to be found in his son's output and it would not altogether surprise me if the piece met with a certain critical disdain. The fact is that Into the Darkness belongs to a genre frequently found on television the appeal of which is huge with the general public but relatively superficial. That is to say that Refn's film is a family saga told at length incorporating various plot threads and set against a past period of history. As is common with such material, the film never surprises save for the fact that few such works are handled as confidently as this one.

 

Into the Darkness begins in 1940 and ends in 1943 and the key date at the start is 9th April 1940, the day that Germany invaded Denmark. The family at the heart of the story is the Skov family whose patriarch is Karl (Jesper Christensen from Quantum of Solace) a rich industrialist. A self-made man with a wife (Bodil Jørgensen) who comes from a far more well-off background, he has one daughter, Helene (Sara Viktoria Bjerregaard), and several sons. The crucial dilemma that faces Karl is whether or not to preserve his manufacturing business by trading with the Germans (at first he can persuade himself that only this course will avert bankruptcy and support his employees and that the Germans may not be as bad as some people suggest). 

 

As the film develops each child is given a storyline and these are intertwined and presented in successive episodes as the narrative moves forward: one son, Michael (Gustav Dyekjær Giese), is militaristic and will join the Free Korps Denmark supporting Hitler while another, Aksel (Mads Reuther), is markedly against any cooperation with the Germans and riskily joins a pro-Soviet resistance group. As for Helene, she refuses to think twice when she falls in love with a German officer (Roman Schomberg). If the two younger sons are less developed characters as yet, that is doubtless because they will play a stronger role in this film's sequel which is already in hand.

 

Refn's film set out to be a dramatic entertainment centred on the Skov family and contains no battle scenes. While being careful not to deny the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis, it avoids on-screen violence and it is characteristic that when a Jewish couple seen early on meet the fate that one would expect it is reported and not actually shown. In his epic family saga Heimat, Edgar Reitz did achieve art while adopting this kind of format, but Into the Darkness is less ambitious than that and will appeal most to audiences who enjoy the likes of Downton Abbey. Nevertheless, there is artistry here for Refn's film sustains its flow admirably. There are no longueurs in all of its 152 minutes and to achieve that is in itself a triumph even if the film never really seeks to take on the depth and ambition of a work of art.

 

Original title: De forbandede år.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jesper Christensen, Bodil Jørgensen, Mads Reuther, Sara Viktoria Bjerregaard, Gustav Dyekjær Giese, Cyron Melville, Roman Schomburg, Claes Malmberg, Katherine Thorborg Johansen, Lue Dittmann Støvelbæk, Sylvester Byder.

 

Dir Anders Refn, Pro Lene Børglum, Screenplay Flemming Quist Møller and Anders Refn, Ph Claus Sisseck and Morten Søborg, Pro Des Sarah Maria Fritiche, Ed Michael Aaglund, Music Nikolaj Hess, Costumes Anne-Dorothe Eskilden.

 

Space Rocket/Spætt Film/Vulcan Film-Vertigo Releasing.
152 mins. Denmark. 2020. Rel: 5 March 2021. Available on VOD. Cert. 15.