© Alamode Film/Filmagentinnen

King of Devil's Island (Kongen av Bastøy)
Norway/France/Sweden/Poland 2010

Opening 29 Mar 2012

Directed by: Marius Holst
Writing credits: Lars Saabye Christensen, Dennis Magnusson, Mette M. Bølstad, Eric Schmid
Principal actors: Stellan Skarsgård, Benjamin Helstad, Kristoffer Joner, Trond Nilssen, Morten Løvstad

This sinister, angry film plays slowly, softly on a beautiful forested island, surrounded by a sparkling fjord. In 1915 young boys go to an institution for juvenile delinquents on Bastøy Island for committing small crimes such as stealing from the church collection plate. Some are just eleven years old; abuse, both mental and physical, is common. This is a religious era and wrong must be punished in the eyes of God. They share a large room, cot next to cot, and attend school classes. But mostly they perform hard, cheap, manual labor in the fields and forests under the sharp eyes of their “protectors,” i.e., the director and teachers. As part of their “correction” they are reminded how lucky they are to be in such a fine establishment, when the alternative would be prison. One day, Erling, a new prisoner, arrives. He never accepts his imprisonment and immediately begins to plan his escape, which misfires at least once. His steady commitment to this goal serves as a role model, and the other boys slowly give up their small rivalries and unite against the adults to create an unforgettable explosion.

Each actor has his own aura, his own composure which in itself seems to tell a story. Benjamin Helstad, who plays Erling, commanded attention at all times, even when he was locked in a cell. Not for one minute did I stop worrying about these boys, even though I knew, of course, that it was “just a film,” although based on a true story, which could have come straight from Charles Dickens (although he was born 100 years prior to 1915). The symbolism about life on a ship and sailors sighting whales is food for thought. The ending is logical, rather than happy.

This showed at the 2011 Filmfest Hamburg, where it won the audience prize – a decision with which I heartily agree; it was also my favorite film at this festival and the only festival film which brought tears to my eyes. A few weeks later it went on to Nordische Filmtage in Lübeck where it won two prizes, including, once again, the audience prize for best film. Director Marius Holst is to be commended. (Becky Tan)

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