"The Last Sentence"

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by Renzo Fegatelli

Amidst all the young and famous film directors in competition at the 36th Festival des films du monde, the Swedish Jan Troell, 81, wanted to talk about the worst years of the last Century: the Nazi era. The Last Sentence (Dom over dod man) is a 124 minutes film about a man, Torgny Segerstedt, who began writing against Adolf Hitler in 1933.  Managing editor of the Goteborg economic daily Handelstidningen, Segerstedt declared Hitler “an insult.” He fought a one-man battle against Hitler until his death in 1945. And that was possible not only because he was a very famous and esteemed journalist, but because he maintained very good relations with important persons. He was supported by his newspaper’s publisher, Alex Forssman, and by Forssman’s wife, Maja. Nevertheless Segerstedt had an affair with Maja, mistreated his own wife; he bestowed most of his affection upon his dogs.

Troell wrote the script with novelist Klaus Rifbierg, collaborated with Mischa Gavrjusiov on the photography and with Ulrika Rang on the editing. It is clear that since his last film, Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick), Troell wanted to take a complete creative control of every aspect of the motion picture, and The Last Sentence ,filmed in black & white, is not only a credible, elegant and very impressive film, but also a compelling depiction of Sweden through the Nazi era. What may prompt questions is the character of his protagonist. Segerstedt, (Jesper Christensen) is a valid, courageous and irreproachable journalist, but as man he’s also very selfish in relation with his wife and seems to be irresponsible with regards to provoking a possible Nazi attack on Sweden. From this point of view, Segerstedt doesn’t make himself well-liked by the audience. And the question is: did the director wanted to make it clear that the protagonist had a strong political awareness, but a small and poor consideration for the people?

German director Franziska Schlotterer is 42 years old. She studied in Paris, Chicago and New York and has directed five films. In competition with Closed Season  (Ende der Schonzeit), she has also made a film about the Nazi era, but she doesn’t look at the larger history. Nevertheless, she tells a three-person story that functions as a mirror to the larger history. In 1970, Bruno, a shy, awkward student from Germany, travels to a kibbutz in Israel looking for his biological father. He has a letter by his deceased mother, but the father, Avi, a Holocaust survivor, wants neither himself nor his family to be disturbed by the young German. At this point a flashback intercedes, telling Avi’s story, how in 1942, when he was a Jewish student, going by the name Albert, he tried to cross the Swiss border. A German farmer, Fritz, helped him. Against his wife Emma’s whishes, he hid Albert in the barn of his isolated farm in the mountains of the Black Forest. And he asks Albert to help him in the farm, but actually the problem he really needs help with is this: Fritz and Emma haven’t any sons. Fritz wants a son because the couple has been married ten years. And the villagers ask why they have failed to procreate.  Finally Fritz asks Albert to sleep with his wife in order to make her pregnant. She doesn’t like the idea, nor does Albert. Anyhow, after a long period of indecision, Albert acquiesces and Emma finally feels up to it. Strangers at the beginning, Emma and Albert wind up sleeping together often. She gets emotionally involved; Albert wishes only to cross the Swiss border. Fritz is jealous, but he has decided to control himself in order to have an heir. Suddenly things go wrong. Albert is taken to a concentration camp and the story seems to end. But there are a couple of surprises, which are best left untold here. It’s interesting how Franziska Schlotterer tells the story in a traditional way but with a good dose of suspense and eroticism. The description of the historic period is convincing and the three central actors (Brigitte Hobmeier, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Christian Friedel) are very good.