Missed Opportunity

There are so few films treating journalists as heroes; couldn't they have made this one better?

Sweden's neutrality during WWII is, oddly enough, just the backdrop and not the focus in The Last Sentence, a film that tries to give us a glimpse inside the mind of newspaper editor Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen).

Segerstedt famously wrote columns criticizing Adolf Hitler during his rise to power and during WWII. He also decried Sweden's staunch neutrality and refusal to take up arms against Nazi Germany. He is, no doubt, a fascinating political figure and a testament to the power of journalism. His articles caused major political uproar.

Writer-director Jan Troell botches a chance for an interesting film about Segerstedt's legacy and the Swedish stance during WWII. Instead, he opts for a film that spends far too much time on Segerstedt's love life, his dogs and his dead mother.

It doesn't help matters much that Troell shoots his period film digitally in black and white. His framing is fine, but the look of the film is too polished, and simply doesn't have the feel of a film set mostly in the '40s(The '40s are just no place for high definition). The movie looks like a filmed play. It sports some lazy editing that allows some of the movie's more melodramatic scenes to become ponderous and unintentionally funny.

While scenes such as Segerstedt squaring off against Sweden's Prime Minister are somewhat fascinating, much of the running time is spent on the married Segerstedt's affair with Maja Forssman (Pernilla August), his best friend's wife. This generates many scenes of Segerstedt's wife Puste (Ulla Skoog) falling apart in shameless, soap opera fashion. I was half expecting many of the scenes between Christensen and Skoog to be interrupted by laundry detergent commercials.

The film tries to be profound in examining the deep psychology of Segerstedt's ideological leanings, even resorting to him talking with his dead mother's ghost and, eventually, the ghosts of his wife and lover. In this, Troell makes the mistake of delving too deeply into his subject's personal affairs and avoiding the more interesting topic, that being the war.

Because it is a relatively low budget affair, The Last Sentence relies on stock footage for the depiction of Nazi Germany and Hitler. Strangely, Troell includes multiple shots of Hitler lovingly playing with his dog, that beautiful German Shepherd he would eventually poison. Much of the film's plot emphasizes Segerstedt's own deep affections for his pack of dogs, often putting them before his wife and family.

Is Troell trying to show us that Segerstedt and Hitler, although deeply opposed in political views, shared a common, parallel love for canines? Strange.

While the film is a mostly pedestrian effort, Christensen is solid in the central role. Segerstedt is an interesting figure who, I must admit, I had no knowledge of before I started watching this movie. It would've been good to see that performance in something other than a by-the-books investigation of infidelity and aging. For God's sakes, WWII is starting to break out, and we are seriously supposed to care about who the dude is sleeping with and what his mother would've thought? Give me a break.

The final scene in the movie is a hammer over the head, and I found myself laughing as it wrapped. I don't think that's what Troell was shooting for. Hey, the man is in his 80s so let it be known that his ability to write, direct and even shoot a movie at his age is quite impressive.

The finished product, however, is nothing of the sort. It's clumsy, misdirected and basically hard to watch for most of its running time. This was a good chance for a useful history lesson sabotaged by sappy, stereotypical romantic observations.

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