Screened at the Nordic Film Days Lubeck

The German occupants started on the 1st of October 1943, searching for Danish Jews. They only got a hold of approximately 500 Jews. In total, 95% reached safety in Sweden and could return to their homes again after the war was over. For most Jews, it was a successful escape to Sweden, but for those who didn’t react early enough to the warnings, the story played out differently. Across the Waters, by Nicholas Donato, shows the flee to Sweden during Second World War from the perspective of the Jews and their helpers who risked their safety to help them over.

In Copenhagen 1943, at a cosy club, there is social life, jazz music and dancing like there is no war outside. Denmark has been fortunate with an almost peaceful agreement with the National socialists and the only sign of the Second World War for the regular Dane has been the use of ration stamps, regular Nazi patrols and a smaller deprivation of their liberty. Arne Itkin, played by David Dencik, is a famous Jewish jazz musician who is at the top of his career. He is charismatic, joyful and knows how to please his audience. At the synagogue, Miriam, played by Danica Curcic, gets told by the rabbi that it is time to flee the country. She goes to the club and tells her husband. Clearly, in denial of the situation and with greater interest in his own career, Arne tells her that this is not Poland and that these things do not happen in Denmark. Shortly after, in their private home, the Nazis are coming. They panic and start taking everything valuable with them. Miriam takes her 5-year-old son Jakob with her and Arne, almost caught by the Nazis – takes his guitar with him. Sweden is so nearby, but the journey to first Gilleleje couldn’t be further away. The journey is done by all possible transport devices, but mostly on foot and through all kind of weather. All the time they are in constant worries if they would get caught, and potentially not make their journey to safety.

The film manages to portray the unsentimental in man. The bestial element in ourselves exceeds what makes us human in order to survive. This is being seen throughout the entire film. When the family’s new friends on the train know that they lack money for the boat fare and they steal from Arne, it creates an entire animalistic scene of two grown up men, losing their basic human instinct and act completely after their true nature – the animal. It is being seen with the skippers when some of them are only interested in earning a great deal of money, rather than helping their fellow human beings. Most fascinating about this film, in relation to the animal instinct, is that it manages to show evil in everyone both Jew, skipper and locals. It is refreshing that in a Second World War film we see evil can be found other places than in the Nazis and their helpers.

The visuals are artistic and the use of light, shadows and colours are well-considered. The framing is generally very close to the characters, which give us a closer relationship to the characters. The camera movement, often handheld, can leave the audience quite dizzy after a long period time. But even the use of hand-held camera adds an extra layer to the story because by using a hand-held camera every relaxed shot can be turned into a chaotic moment. It gives the audience an authentic feeling of how the flee was: chaotic, painful and that even in quiet moments, you could never expect safety.

Nicholas Donato has been inspired by true events. Not only by history but by a primary source, his grandfather, who helped Jews across the waters. His grandfather is portrayed in the character N.B played by Jakob Cedergreen. Donato could portray a complete heroic story of the fishermen if he wanted to, but he decides to portray all fishermen – also the evil, like Kaj, played by Nicholas Bro, who is a complete narcissist who refuses to take people on the boat if they don’t have enough money. He is disloyal towards the other fishermen and acts completely after his own interest.

Every Dane knows this part of history and we are all very proud of having helped as a nation – the Jews to flee during the Second World War. It was a matter of time before this great story would become a film. The film would have been easy to make as a ‘heroic’ Second World War film, but Donato chose not to take the easy path. He manages to create a remarkable picture, experimenting with artistic visuals and storytelling and where the suspense is increased throughout the film. The cast is judicious, but the acting by Dencik and Curcic is not nuanced at all time. Overall, the story and great visuals overrule the actors.

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