A Film a Week - Betrayed / Den største forbrytelsen

 previously published on Cineuropa

Eirik Svensson’s fourth feature, Betrayed, is a Holocaust drama based on true events that deals with the Norwegian Quisling régime’s share of the guilt for the crimes against the Jews, which included internment in concentration camps and the deportation of men, women and children by sea and rail all the way to Auschwitz, where most of the detainees were killed. It was released directly in theatres in Norway last Christmas, and distribution abroad and a release on DVD and VoD platforms ensued. Its screening at the Belgrade International Film Festival serves as its festival premiere and will probably remain one of the rare festival bookings for the film.

We follow the story of the Jewish Braude family. The small-business-owner father Benzel (Michalis Koutsogiannakis, from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) and his seamstress wife Sara (seasoned TV and movie actress Pia Halvorsen) are immigrants from Lithuania who stick to the Jewish traditions. On the other hand, their sons Charles (star actor Jakob Oftebro), who serves as our protagonist, Harry (Carl Martin Eggesbø) and Isak (Eilif Hartwig), as well as their daughter Helene (Silje Storstein), are completely integrated in Norwegian society. In pre-war times, Charles was a star boxer, and just before the war, he got married to his affectionate Norwegian girlfriend Ragnhild (Kristine Kujath Thorp, for whom the role in Betrayed could turn out to be seminal).

Then the occupation came, and the Braudes all had to register as Jews. Soon enough, the father and all three sons were rounded up and sent to Berg, while the women and their neighbour Maja (up-and-coming actress Hanna-Maria Grønneberg) were left to fend for themselves and weigh up their options, such as escaping to neutral Sweden under the slowly mounting pressure from the authorities, which culminated in the confiscation of their property, arrests and deportation to Auschwitz on the SS Donau in late November 1942. In parallel with the Braude family tragedy, we also follow the preparations for the large-scale operation handled by police chief Knut Rød (Anders Danielsen Lie, of Oslo, August 31st, 22 July and Personal Shopper fame).

The screenplay by veteran screenwriters Lars Gudmestad (Headhunters) and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg (The King’s Choice) touches on a number of Holocaust drama clichés, like the world-view clashes between the different generations in the Jewish community, the attitudes of the policemen and the bureaucrats, which are usually impersonal and cold, but sometimes turn into insincere courtesy or open sadism, and the tension that builds up from the dilemma of whether to stay and comply or try to leave and risk life and limb, and from the genre scenes of life in the concentration camp and the attempts to hide in the city. The time-hopping structure, jumping between late November 1942 and the years preceding it, employed in the first half of the film is also a well-worn trick that adds to the dynamism.

The execution by director Svensson is solid, and his intentions are clear. The stylistic choice of a murky colour palette in Karl Erik Brøndbo’s cinematography is fitting, which is also the case with Johan Söderquist’s neoclassical soundtrack. The actors are directed to elicit an emotional reaction from the viewer, which they succeed in doing, although their characters are confined to the well-known types. Oftebro is convincing as the “never give up” type of protagonist, while Danielsen Lie is chilling as the cold and distanced antagonist. Betrayed might not be exceptional and may not bring many new elements to the Holocaust drama sub-genre, but it is a rock-solid and respectful film.

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