REVIEW: DVD Release: Betrayal

Film: Betrayal
Release date: 17th January 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 93 mins
Director: Haakon Gundersen
Starring: Lene Nystrøm, Götz Otto, Kåre Conradi, Hare Prinz, Jørgen Langhelle
Genre: Action/History/War
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: Norway

Audiences have long become accustomed to war film after war film set in occupied France during World War Two. As such, Haakon Gundersen’s Betrayal, which is based on true events, offers a rare opportunity to look into the lives, loves and loyalties of those in occupied Norway.

We begin in 1943, and the tide of war is turning in favour of the allies. Norwegian businessman Tor Lindblom (Fridtjov Saheim) has been aiding the Nazi occupiers under SS Major Kruger (Gotz Otto) by abetting and promoting their war and business interests. Both Lindblom and Kruger share the love and titular betrayal of lounge singer and undercover British agent Eva Karleson. (Lene Nystrom)

What follows is a dance of deception and intrigue as all the players balance their romantic aspirations, their desire to position themselves as best they can for the end of the war and their overt or covert patriotism. Things come to a head when the illicit dealings of Lindblom begin to attract unwanted attention in Berlin and the Gestapo close the net on all three protagonists.

It is then that the Norwegian Resistance, led by none other than Lindblom’s brother, Svein (Kåre Conradi), make their move, and through Eva’s connections to both men, attempt to smuggle vital plans out to the British to help them co-ordinate an aerial strike against German aluminium factories used to create the feared planes of the Luftwaffe. As events accelerate, Lindblom must choose between his love, his family, his business or his country before time runs out for all of them…

Cynics might look at the casting of this film and know what to expect. The heroine is played by the former lead singer of Europop group Aqua (of Barbie Girl fame). The villain is played by a former Bond henchman. To do so would be slightly unfair, as though slightly melodramatic, neither performance detracts from the piece. The same could not be said of the script, which ranges between predictable and utterly contrived, with clunky expository dialogue. “Do you know what today is?” “Why yes, it’s our six month anniversary!”

There is a vague notion of the story being related to a young relative from ‘present day America’, but no reason is given for its telling. Moments of sporadic voiceover add little to the story, and there seems to be no motive beyond teary-eyed reminiscence as the adoring American grand-daughter, who just popped in for a surprise visit, watches on obediently.

No attempt whatsoever is made to make occupied Norway look or feel any different to occupied France. We know the genre so well, better perhaps than Gundersen, who fails to avoid some of the more Allo Allo-esque clichés of ‘Nazi resistance’ films, right down to the Burlesque styled lounge bar, Nazi offices complete with expensive nude paintings and frustrated secretaries, and obscure references to what “London demands.”

Crucially, the film is treading sensitive ground that really deserved to be more carefully treated. Gundersen betrays flashes of a national shame at the collaboration of Norwegian businessmen with the Nazi regime, and its concluding text presents a righteous indignation at the fact that the many who profited from dealings with the Nazi machine were never prosecuted and retained the assets created by the slave labour of POWs.

It seems that the heart of the film would like to have been about dealing with this dark chapter of Norwegian history and, perhaps, finding some sort of new perspective upon it. Sadly, the story in its telling offers little but a late night raid on a World War Two prop box supported only by the most predictable clichés of the genre. Against this background, the cast perform as best they can.

Praise should go to Lene Nystrom who shows some moments of real empathy in her portrayal of Eva, and Fridtjov Saheim for his self consciously Bogart-like Lindblom. Both did well to mitigate the worst of the clunky two dimensionality of their characters. Praise should also go to director of photography Hans Kristian Riise who concocted some memorable images, particularly in the atmospheric night sequences.

Betrayal then, is a film that seems uncertain of its audience. It follows a well trodden path and as such, is far from unwatchable (there is a reason why certain trends are repeated in genre films). Watching it leaves the sense of a film that had something to say but fearing accusations of banality, heightened the camp war thriller aspects to carry its message and in doing so, clouded out the unique and interesting aspects of this true story with contrived, predictable melodrama.

The saddest thing about the piece is that it feels like a missed opportunity to say something meaningful about something important. Doubtless, this opportunity was there for the taking, but it seems that in an ironic echo of his subject matter, in pursuit of commerciality, Gundersen has shied away from the stand he was trying to make. NB

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