Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Ni liv / Nine Lives

Me kuolemme yksin / [Nove vite]. NO 1957. D+SC: Arne Skouen. Dal romanzo We Die Alone di David Howarth. DP: Ragnar Sørensen. M:  Gunnar Sønstevold. C: Jack Fjeldstad (Jan Baalsrud), Henny Moan (Agnes), Alf Malland (Martin), Joachim Holst-Jensen (Bestefar), Lydia Opøien (l'ostetrica), Edvard Drabløs (il maestro). Loc: Troms. P: A/S Nordsjøfilm 35 mm. 96'. B&w. Da: National Library of Norway. Cinema Lumière - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), earphone translation in Italian and English, 2 July 2013

"Arne Skouen, born 100 years ago (1913-2003), is a giant in Norwegian cinema. Skouen was a productive writer and director within film and theatre, as well as a sharp-penned journalist for the two largest papers in Norway. In addition to this he had several books published as a novelist, a playwright, and a writer of non-fiction. In 1932 he made his debut as a novelist, seven years later as a playwright. During WWII he was involved in the resistance, first in Oslo, Norway as an agent sending news to the allied abroad. Later he was stationed in Stockholm, London and New York working partly as a journalist for the allied forces and scriptwriter on the side. During the war, in New York, he watched Marcel Carné's Le Jour se lève (1939) till he knew it by heart. Many of Skouen's films show traces of this masterpiece. In Skouen's films we often see main characters struggling with their inner psyche and inadequacy, dependent on forces beyond themself against the opponents. Arne Skouen directed seventeen feature films between 1949 and 1969, four of those were WWII dramas. Ni liv is based on David Howarth's book We Die Alone from 1955, recounting the authentic drama of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian resistance man during WWII. Baalsrud's group of resistance men are discovered by German soldiers while smuggling weapons and supplies by boat into Northern Norway. His group mates are killed, but Baalsrud escapes, swimming the icy fjord after having a toe shot off. His long journey to the Swedish border begins. The main character gets totally dependent on friendly Norwegians in his escape. The enemy of war plays a minor part in this war drama. First and foremost the harsh, cold nature and his own psyche and inner demons are the protagonist's main enemies. Ni liv was screened in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival 1958, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958." Bent Bang-Hansen

The title of the movie refers to the nine lives of a cat.

A powerful resistance story and survival story. Also a great mountaineering story. It would be incredible if it were not true.

Shot on location in Troms in Norwegian Lapland, it starts with a failed sabotage mission of the resistance movement on the coast. Only one of the fighters, Jan Baalsrud, survives, and he starts his desperate flight towards Sweden, over the fjelds, in freezing wind, helped by villagers who know they will be executed if the Germans find out.

Having succumbed to frostbite and snow blindness Jan Baalsrud becomes totally helpless and dependent on the villagers. Even the villagers reach the limit of their capacities dragging Jan on sleds in arctic winds and snowsnorms, along steep slopes. While hiding in a barn Jan amputates a number of his frostbitten toes with a kitchen knife.

There is a good sense of comic timing in one of the most thrilling turns of the movie. Jan has been hidden in a snow cave on the mountain, and he gets totally covered in snow in a terrible snowstorm. When the rescuers finally find him they ask, just as a formality: "Are you dead?" - "No". There was a big laughter in the audience in this scene.

Towards the end Jan gets delirious, and there are interesting and original nightmare sequences in the movie.

Nine Lives is also a Lapland movie. The final rescue happens thanks to Laplanders who take Jan with them in their huge reindeer drive. There is a sense of epic width in these scenes.

In the epilogue we see Jan learning to walk again on a hospital corridor.

A film I would like to see again, as I would like to see more of Arne Skouen's work.

The film print has been struck from a good source, and the visual quality is often great, yet at times it is uneven.

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