This gripping Danish film starts out as one thing — a thriller involving the Iraq War — and ends up as something completely different — a heartbreaking love story. The end, employing a gimmick I usually hate with a passion in films but which is done masterfully here, had me weeping in my seat, something I almost never do in theaters (don’t much like cryin’ in public). And I wasn’t the only one sniffling and wiping my eyes as the end credits rolled, either (much to my relief; see above re: cryin’ in public).
The film focuses on two men and the way in which their lives eventually intersect. The first is a young guy, Ali, who has agreed to go to Iraq to serve as a translator for the Danish army. As his story progresses, we see him arrive in the Middle East, get stationed at a POW camp, and then witness numerous horrific human rights atrocities perpetrated by the Danish army against Iraqi prisoners.
The other man is Jacob, an older man who writes screenplays and who is about to adopt a child along with his wife Helena. He’s struggling with his latest project, though, and the stress is mounting as his producer tells him he’s got until Friday to deliver a script or else the project is kaput. Distracted one night driving home from his office, he accidentally hits a man we soon realize is Ali, back from the war and walking home after his debriefing.
Jacob leaps out of the car and races to Ali’s side, just in time to hear the injured man say, “Get my bag out of here!” before passing out. Confused, Jacob grabs Ali’s duffel, throws it in his backseat, and speeds off to find help. He pulls into a mini-mart to make an anonymous call from the payphone there, not realizing there’s a security camera pointed right at him (whoops), and then takes off for home.
Once safely alone, he opens Ali’s bag and inside finds a packet containing Ali’s diary and a set of graphic photographs depicting the violence he witnessed overseas. Jacob immediately contacts his sister, a reporter named Siri (played by Paprika Stein, who I adored in last year’s SIFF film Skeletons), and the two decide the photos must come out. Siri puts Jacob in touch with a more appropriate reporter for the job, Michael, and the two agree to meet.
Jacob keeps the photographs after Michael tells him the paper can’t print them without verification from Ali. But when Jacob decides to call the police and turn himself in, primarily so he can find out where Ali ended up, the cops tell him they have no record of the accident. That is, they got his phone call, but when they arrived at the scene ten minutes later, there was no body.
Jacob immediately becomes convinced the army had been following Ali, stole his body, and are now after HIM, knowing he’s got the incriminating photographs. As the days pass, he becomes more and more paranoid, focusing that paranoia on one man in particular he believes has been following him. Then the bodies start piling up, Helena disappears, and all hell breaks loose.
That’s when the story changes abruptly, shedding its political thriller costume and revealing itself to be one of the saddest films I have seen in a really long time. I’ve read some other reviews of this movie in which the reviewers say they weren’t moved at all by the ending, instead feeling kind of duped or cheated by it, and I completely understand that reaction. But for me, the story really hit somewhere powerful, and the acting, my god — the agony of the characters in the final scene shot straight from the screen into my heart and sat there twisting for hours after I’d left my seat.
Despite the devastating ending, though, I absolutely loved this film. It’s beautifully crafted, wonderfully written, and just confusing enough to keep you thinking, without being so confusing you become annoyed. When I looked back, I could see plainly a number of elements that could have clued me into the twist at the end, elements that struck me as slightly strange at the time (like the enormous painting of a security camera over a hotel room bed — weird decor for a bedroom), but not necessarily relevant to the story — until it was over, that is, and everything clicked.
Very effective, very intelligent, very moving, and very, very highly recommended.
Genre: Drama, Foreign (Denmark)
Cast: Jens Albinus, Igor Radosavljevic, Marijana Jankovic, Thomas Høite Meersohn, Paprika Steen