Aka: The Shadow in My Eye
This film should have been posted a month ago, but somehow was overlooked.
- Ole Borneda
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 47 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh, the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent;
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
Disaster overtakes disaster,
the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are destroyed,
my curtains in a moment.
As we are witnessing in newscasts from the Ukraine, this WW 2 era film shows that children are always the most poignant victims of war. And in Danish writer/director Ole Bornedal’s mesmerizing film, based on an actual bombing raid by the RAF on March 25, 1945 , it is not just a sadistic enemy who maim and kill the innocent victims.
It is late in the War, 1945, and the Gestapo are close to discovering the identity of the Danish Resistance and wiping it out. Therefore the Danes have been pleading with the RAF to bomb Copenhagen’s Gestapo headquarters in the large building known as the Shellhus. They have held back because the Nazi’s have jailed a large number of Resistance captives in the top floor, thus ensuring they would be the first to die in the event of an attack.
Finally we see that they have green lighted a raid, named Operation Carthage. We follow the two-man crew of one of the bombers being sent aloft toward the Danish capital. The movie had begun with that same pair strafing what they had thought was a Nazi s staff car traveling on a rural road. We know better because we have seen a wedding party, the three young women dressed in white, climbing into the car. Young Henry (Bertram Bisgaard Enevoldsen) is riding his bike, bringing home a load of fresh eggs on that same road, when he sees the fighter fly by and hears the gun fire. Forgetting the eggs (they smash when he drops his bike), he rushes up to the burning, bullet-riddled car, and sees what bullets can do to innocent bodies. He is so traumatized that he stops talking. Neither his parents nor a clueless doctor can induce him to speak, so his mother ships him off to her sister’s (Danica Curcic) in Copenhagen.
In that city another child, Eva (Ella Josephine Lund Nilsson), is traumatized when she sees a Nazi gun down a Partisan on the street. Meanwhile Henry has arrived at his aunt’s home where her daughter Rigmor (Ester Birch Beck) welcomes him with great sympathy. The boy not only cannot speak, but he is afraid of the open sky from which death had come so violently. He is to accompany his cousin to school, Jeanne d’Arc School, but is terrified to expose himself by crossing a street. The clever girl contrives a means of getting him to cross a street using her mother’s close line. On the way, Rigmor’s friend Eva joins them. Eva is from an abusive home where she seldom seems appreciated, although her mother (Malene Beltoft Olsen) at least does.
Sister Teresa (Fanny Bornedal) teaches at the school. She is struggling with her faith due to the suffering and death of so many innocents in the war. In private she has been flagellating herself in the hope that God will reveal himself to her amidst suffering. Her concerned prioress (Susse Wold) scolds her, saying, “We’re not 15th century Jesuits.” Caring for her pupils, among whom are our three, she does not express her doubts. When they also ask about God and the suffering of the war, she assures them that God does care, telling them that time is different for God, and a single day for God may be the a 100 years for humans.
In another part of the city we meet a man getting dressed in his HIPO uniform. Frederik (Alex Høgh Andersen) is a member of the Danish auxiliary police who work with the Nazis. His father despises him, saying he is not his son. Later, on the street, Sister Teresa sees him hitting a resistance member. She faces him and fearlessly declares, “If you don’t find the Lord, you will burn in Hell!” Realizing that the Allies will soon arrive, he says that it is too late, that his membership in HIPO has doomed him. She unexpectedly kisses him, “If I kiss someone like you, God will surely punish me. Then I’ll know he exists.” The will have two more unusual encounters later on.
On March 25 the RAF fighter-bombers take off, flying at rooftop level to avoid Nazi radar. The first wave hit their target, the Shell Building, and miraculously many of the Resistance fighters emerge unscathed. Not so fortunate are the occupants of Jeanne d’Arc School. Ahead of our two-man RAF crew a plane loses its tail rudder and crashes, the smoke causing them to veer slightly off course. They release their bomb at a large building and then quickly realize they have bombed the wrong building. Radio silence has been imposed, so they can only watch in horror as the wave behind them unload their bombs onto the wrong target.
In the building all his chaos and destruction, the teachers and students the helpless victims of a terrible mistake. 86 children will die in the rubble, along with almost 40 adults. Sister Teresa is pinned underneath the rubble, and below her she can hear the faint voice of Rigmor, who also cannot move. She tries to keep the girl’s spirit up by assuring her that help is on the way. The little girl replies that the water pouring forth from broken pipes is rising.
Above ground a dust-covered Henry at first moves aimlessly until a helmeted rescuer tells him he must assist him. He needs someone to g o back and forth between the destroyed school and the hall where the anxious parents have been sent to await news about their children. The reluctant boy, using his notebook, is able to write down the description of a child and her clothing, and if the victim is able to talk, the name. Henry does this continually, slowly recovering his speech as he realizes the importance of the mission entrusted to him.
In the hall are the parents of both Rigmor and Eva, their faces smeared with tears as Henry returns each time with his news. Down in the depths of the ruins, Teresa keeps trying to encourage Rigmor, even when the girl reports that the water has almost risen to her mouth. The nun had banged on the pipes while yelling for help, and Frederik is the rescuer who wriggles his way through the debris, promising to get them. The tension becomes almost unbearable—this not being a Hollywood film, we are not assured of a happy outcome.
Jeremiah’s plaintive words, uttered because of the horror brought upon Judah by the invading Babylonians, have been echoed countless times, and now in the Ukraine as well as in the Copenhagen where our story is set. The film reminds us in a graphic way how it is too often children that pay the price of war. The horror and sorrow of the last portion of this film is relieved partially by the last scene which begins with a marvelous unbroken shot of one of the mothers running through the streets to return home. She has been told by Henry that her daughter was not in the rubble, but that he had seen her walking toward home. The mother, never pausing for breath, runs and runs, turning corners, and arriving at last, climbing the stairs, bursting into her apartment, and…
This is not a film you are likely to forget, and, although children are central to its story, probably not one that parents will want to watch with children in elementary or younger grades. Not only are there graphic scenes of the wounded and the dead at the school, but there some brief scenes of Gestapo thugs torturing Resistance captives. But for older members of the family, and for youth groups wanting to explore the costs of war, the film, joined with the images of the Ukrainian children shown on TV screens, surely will add to viewers’ concern for the welfare of the youngest victims of warfare. Each week Netflix continues to bring us at least one meaningful film that might not have made it to our theaters.
This review is in the April issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.