Thursday, November 17, 2011

Marius Holst's KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND: Norwegian reform school life, circa 1915

Film Movement, distributor of a classy repertoire of films from around the world, is pitching its latest theatrical release -- a Norwegian movie called KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND -- as a thriller. Thrillers exist to thrill, and though this film has a number of exciting moments, it's first-and-foremost a damn good social drama. Yes, the suspense is gruelling, particularly toward the conclusion, but the film is as much a character study of formed men, of boys still in the process, and of power gone wrong. (Gheesh! Can't power ever go right? Only, it seems in a great fantasy like Limitless). The film also offers an interesting look at one infamous reform school in Norway during the first half of the century just past.

Directed by Marius Holst (shown at right) and written by Dennis Magnusson and Eric Schmid, from a story by Mette M. Bølstad and Lars Saabye Christensen, the film is highly attuned to the nuances of charac-ter. Holst's use of close-ups, and the on-target perfor-mances given by virtually every actor on view ensures that we get to know these boys and their two "masters" quite well. We're even able to differentiate among the boys more easily than in many movies taking place in a school setting.

Three boys and two men dominate the film. The new student (C-19: the boys are always referred to by a dehumanizing number) is played by Benjamin Helstad (above, shirtless), who is older than most and said to have committed murder prior to his stint at the school. He is befriended by C-1 (Trond Nilssen, below), the favorite of the school's governor (Stellan Skarsgård) and about to be released into the "real" world.

C-5, also new but weak and helpless, is soon preyed upon by the "housefather" (an ugly, angry and very real performance by Kristoffer Joner), which leads eventually to the incident that galvanizes the rebellion that  is said to have actually happened at the school.

In the role of the governor, Skarsgård, above, give his usual strong performance, this time as a man of reason and decency who has compromised himself into a web of hypocrisy and lies. The filmmaker and his cast allow the drama to loosen full-throttle but resist the temptation to go overboard into melodrama. The accumulation of telling incidents is enough to carry the plot along, and the pacing keeps things cooking nicely.

What seals the deal is the bond that slowly forms between C-1 and C-19. This is never pushed but seems genuine at each step of the way, leading to a supremely moving conclusion. King of Devil's Island is movie royalty.

The film opens tomorrow, Friday, November 18, in New York City at the Cinema Village and will open on December 2 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverley Hills.  Click here to see further playdates around the country.

No comments: