Wednesday, 25 September 2013

"Max Manus - Man of War" - a review

I recently spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with a Norwegian World War Two film from 2008 - "Max Manus - Man of War".  It tells the true story of the eponymous hero - Max Manus - who was one of the central figures in the Norwegian Resistance to Nazi occupation.

I must admit that I had not previously heard of Max Manus until my Norwegian publisher told me his story a couple of years ago in Oslo.  I probably shared that ignorance with most - even WW2 enthusiasts - outside Norway, but Manus' story is well worth retelling, and if you're willing to endure the subtitles, you can now inform yourself via the medium of film.

After volunteer service in the Winter War, fighting the Soviets, Max Manus returned to Oslo in time to see the German occupation of his homeland and immediately set to work - with others of like mind - to organise resistance.  After arrest by the Gestapo in 1941, he escaped and went (after an extraordinary odyssey) to the UK for formal training with what was to become the Norwegian Independent Company - or Lingekompaniet - later returning to Norway as a saboteur.

As an SOE operative and an occasional member of the "Oslo Gang", Manus participated in a number of sabotage operations against the German occupation; including frustrating the planned conscription of Norwegian men for military service, 'Operation Mardonius'; the sinking of German ships in Oslo harbour, and the 1945 sinking of the German freighter SS Donau using limpet mines. Though many of his comrades were killed in the resulting repressions, Manus survived the war and lived to the age of 81, dying in 1996.

The film concentrates, naturally, on Manus' wartime career.  It tells its story briskly and engagingly, using the device of flashbacks to Manus' service in Finland to punctuate the rest of the narrative.  It has excellent production values and splendid acting, and all in all makes for a most enjoyable couple of hours.  The lead particularly - Aksel Hennie - stands out.  I enjoyed the flashbacks to the Winter War - a most fascinating and under-known conflict in the West - but couldn't quite see their narrative purpose in the film, other than to show that Manus was in some way tormented by his service there.

I can't comment much on the accuracy of the history, sadly.  I have heard from Norwegian colleagues that the central importance of Manus is perhaps a little exaggerated, but such tweaks are maybe understandable in the name of creating a more compelling tale, and rest assured we are a long way from U-571 territory here. But what is fascinating for a non-Norwegian is how the film opens up a perspective on the story of World War Two that we hear very little of.

For this alone, I heartily recommend it.

No comments: