A haunting account

A haunting account

Danish drama tells a tragic tale that highlights the brutality of war

A haunting account
Fanny Bornedal as sister Teresa.

How many war films have we seen in our lives? Even enthusiasts of war films who think they know history are often surprised to discover new tales. And this is one of the great things about cinema as it allows us to re-examine overlooked moments in history.

Netflix recently got the distribution rights to a Danish war drama The Shadow In My Eye. It was released in Denmark last year but recently dropped on the platform under the title The Bombardment. It recounts a true event that took place near the end of World War II when Germany still occupied Denmark. In 1945, an air mission was carried out by the Royal Air Force in an attempt to bomb Gestapo headquarters, but it accidentally targeted a French Catholic school full of children in the heart of Copenhagen where German forces had gathered. It resulted in the loss of 125 Danish civilian lives, including 86 schoolchildren. The film follows the series of unfortunate incidents that led up to that event. The Bombardment is an emotional drama with depressing moments and there are many scenes involving violence and injustice, so it isn't a movie for the faint of heart. But it remains an important story and unapologetic portrayal of the brutality of war.

First, this is a beautifully shot film. The cinematography is beautiful and there are many continuous takes to give viewers an immersive experience. The production, visual point of view and aesthetics of the movie are also outstanding, whether it's the costumes, vehicles, brick streets or any other 1940s element that looks authentic and distinct.

Instead of focusing primarily on the war, The Bombardment tells its story through the eyes of civilians and those caught up in it all. There's a handful of characters we get to see throughout, such as Henry (Bertram Bisgaard), a boy who witnesses something traumatic which makes him unable to speak, and Rigmore (Ester Birch), a cousin in Copenhagen who Henry goes to visit in the hopes a change in scenery will help heal his condition. These kids attend a French Catholic school, which is where we meet Teresa (Fanny Bornedal), a nun and teacher having a crisis of faith. Her life becomes intertwined with a young Danish man named Frederick (Alex Høgh Andersen) who has joined the HIPO police branch established by the Gestapo, making him a traitor to his people and his own family.

All these characters experience some transformation over the course of the story, which makes it easy for us to become invested in them. They're all forced to change due to the horrible events of war, which further emphasises how severe the conflict really was. There are also a number of dark themes covered throughout The Bombardment, including a crisis of faith, youth trauma and self-preservation.

A scene from The Bombardment. (Photo: Netflix Thailand)

The movie starts out with a cheery scene that quickly becomes harrowing. The first half mixes mental health narratives with the tragedy of citizens being picked off one by one by HIPO officers. The film lets us know from the start what's going to happen, so despite any bright spots we witness, we still know there is a war going on and a lot of lives are going to be lost. The story builds like dominoes being placed strategically for that final piece to be laid so that everything can be set in motion.

When the story reaches its climax in the last quarter when planes take off to drop bombs on the target, there's a 20-minute sequence where we see their flight. During this time, the scene is intercut with children at the school practicing for a play. And then we have a combination of these two arcs which makes for a dramatic sequence, which begins to build anxiety and will definitely put you on the edge of your seat. Eventually when the bombing happens, even though it is tragic and terrible, the way in which it is portrayed is exceptionally well done. The special effects and the sound are realistic and terrifying, showing how shockwaves ripple through buildings with each bomb dropped.

The only downside of the film is that despite the beautiful aesthetics and compelling story, the presentation gives us the trauma and violence of these true events without any reprieve. Despite being a historical film, it doesn't leave us any sort of answer or offer a new perspective, just death and devastation. But again, this is more of a nitpick than anything else. Ultimately, The Bombardment is an important account of one of the many terrible tragedies committed during World War II, with a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere and compelling storytelling which creates a visceral experience that will linger with you long after.

  • The Bombardment
  • Starring Fanny Bornedal, Alex Høgh Andersen, Bertram Bisgaard
  • Directed by Ole Bornedal
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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