Sunday, January 5, 2014

Guest post by Lee Liberman -- Guillou/Flinth/ Gunnarsson's ARN: THE KNIGHT TEMPLAR

Based on fiction by popular and prolific contemporary Swedish crime novelist/journalist Jan Guillou, and directed by Peter Flinth (shown below), from a screenplay by Hans GunnarssonARN: THE KNIGHT TEMPLAR, is a 6-chapter adventure romance set in Twelfth-Century Scandinavian 'games of thrones' (Norway also in play in the story) and in the Middle East during wars waged between Christians and Saracens for control of Jerusalem. It's a perfect binge-watch for a snowy day.

Starring Swedish film and tv actors, Joakim Natterqvist (on poster, above, and below, right) and Sofia Helin (below, left), a passel of Skarsgårds (not Alex but his robust and commanding father Stellan with 3 younger Skarsgårds), Simon Callow, and others in an international cast, Arn's story is more than a galloping bodice-ripper; it deservedly beat 'the Tudors' which it ran against in France. It's value-added by its humanization of the Saracen enemy through Arn's (fictional) combat and friendship with Saladin, the brilliant Sunni leader (born 1138 coincidentally in Saddam's home town of Tikrit, Iraq), who defeated the Christian armies and reclaimed Jerusalem after a near century of rule by the West.

Arn is a small farm boy from Gothia (Southern Sweden) when the king to whom his family is loyal is decapitated by an enemy clan. The dead king's son, Knut, brings his pet bird to visit Arn, and chasing it over the edge of a lookout tower, Arn falls, lingering unconscious. His parents promise God that Arn will serve the church if he wakes. After recovering, Arn is reluc-tantly delivered to the monastery where he is raised with care, educated, and taught warrior skills by Brother Gilbert (Vincent Perez), then sent home as a young man. There Arn resumes his friendship with the grown and ambitious Knut, (Gustaf Skarsgard), now lying in wait to snatch back the crown from the clan that deposed his father.

Smitten with the beautiful Cecelia, Arn gets her pregnant, the scandal producing penance for the lovers of 20 years service to the church. Cecelia is confined to the local convent (below) where a vengeful abbess (the now deceased Bibi Anderson) tortures her and makes off with her bastard infant. Arn is sent to the Holy Land as a Templar Knight where he acquires fame among Saracens as the invinci-ble Christian enemy warrior they call 'Al Ghouti'. The story juggles Holy War machinations, life in the abbey, and tribal Scandinavian politics where evildoers wage their plots with Shakespearean relish and brutality.

In the desert, Arn matures into a master strategist and commander whose life intertwines with arch-enemy Saladin. Played by stunning Indian movie idol Milind Soman (below), Saladin emerges as a wise, devout, and entirely admirable adversary, (confirmed as fact in historical accounts). Saladin and Arn, well-matched enemies, quote the Koran to each other: "Take not another's life.....for it is sacred in the eyes of God, save in the cause of righteousness". Arn's subordinate asks: "Are those Saracens evil?" Arn replies: "They are like us; some are vile while others are good." Despite the novelist's reputation as ardently pro-Palestinian, the script lets the evil-doing fall where it may, if just a tad heavier on the West.

Natterqvist as the stoic, self-contained Templar Knight at the center of the saga is a somewhat bland though versatile player. Born into an equestrian family, he is at home with a sword as on horseback and facile with languages.

While reading English subtitles and listening to the Swedish dialogue, I was struck by the amount of familiar vocabulary that must have made its way into English through waves of Scandinavian invasions to Britain, so much so you almost block out the foreign-ness of the tongue. Everyday expressions recur over and over: "come and go", "catch me if you can", "Welcome", "Hey" , "God's will"'. A strapping Norwegian craving beer in the desert moans, "ule, ule, ule" -- no doubt presaging our word "ale".

Altogether one is reminded of how much we owe our far flung ancestors, how reminiscent the Crusader period is of our own hapless struggles in the Middle East, and to hope someday that our murderous combat with each other will mature from violence to words.

You can watch Arn: The Knight Templar now on Netflix streaming, or via DVD and Blu-ray.


The above post is written by Lee Liberman, who graduated in English Literature from UC Berkeley and has a Masters of Science in Communications Management from Simmons College, Boston. Liberman spent her professional career working in corporate communications, but has continuously free-lanced as writer, photographer, editor in both technical communications and the arts.

Ms Liberman and TrustMovies first communicated over a post on this blog regarding A Heavenly Vintage, a very fine film which she has promised to write about soon. When that happens, her post will appear on this blog.

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