Directed by Anders Refn — Screenplay by Anders Refn and Flemming Quist Møller.
When I wrote up and released my brief thoughts on part one of Anders Refn’s De Forbandede År (int. title: Into the Darkness), a film about a family of Danes during the German occupation of Denmark, I was rather underwhelmed. World War II films tend to find an audience over here, and, as a bit of a history buff, I wanted this hugely ambitious project to land with more than just a thud. “Hopefully, its sequel will be better,” I wrote, though I must admit that I wasn’t optimistic.
The first film was powerful in moments because of how it highlighted a family in conflict because of the occupation. Some decided to become resistance fighters and rebel, while others decided to cooperate with the occupiers in an attempt to keep food on the table and keep some sense of normalcy, I suppose. I noted that the historical drama about the first half of the German occupation of Denmark held my interest and was interesting and ambitious, but, ultimately, it was a disappointment, and it felt both incomplete and rushed. Anders Refn is still at the helm for the second part of the Skov story, and, frankly, the end result is mostly the same. Jesper Christensen is the highlight, but the film is messy and overlong.
In De Forbandede År 2 (int. title: Out of the Darkness), the tide is turning. Slowly, but surely, the German occupation is coming to an end. The occupiers become more stubbornly brutal, while the opposition becomes gradually larger and larger. Soon Karl Skov (played by Jesper Christensen), too, will get a target on his back, as his and his factory’s cooperation with the occupiers is now definitely much more than frowned upon by the resistance. Like the first film, it contains enough story threads to be a full series, which it really should have been. It covers everything from treason and sabotage to scared Danish policemen and traumatized people on both sides of the occupation in Denmark.
What I will say again is that Anders Refn’s second film is equally ambitious. There can be no doubt about what he had set out to do. As a portrait of Danish families during the German occupation of Denmark, it succeeds in highlighting the many different fates that befell Danes. It shows what it means to be on the right or wrong side of history, and how your choices define how you are perceived. For people unfamiliar with Danish history, these two films should be very illuminating. But it really should have been one show instead of two films. They need breathing room, it feels like there are scenes missing, and it ends up feeling less than entirely cohesive. The individual scenes are fine enough, but it jumps around too much. Frankly, it feels more like a series of scenes rather than a cohesive film. To add to that, plot developments are frustratingly telegraphed and the editing is off (certain shots don’t match, there are abrupt and jarring cuts, many time jumps, and way too much happens off-screen).
Did Anders Refn bite off more than he could chew? Perhaps. That is certainly one way to read it. But I think the problem here is more so with the decision to make this story into two films. This could have been a strong television series if it had been tweaked just a little, but as films, these are just too messy. Still, though, Bodil Jørgensen and, especially, Jesper Christensen are great in these fascinating but messy historical dramas about the German occupation of Denmark.
5.5 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.