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Based on a true story: Norwegian winter, early 20th century. On the island Bastoy, located in the Oslo fjord live a group of delinquent, young boys aged 11 to 18. The boys daily, sadistic regime is run by the guards and the principal who bestow both mental and physical abuse on them. Instead of the boys being straightened out with education they end up being used as cheap, manual labor. The boys attempt to survive by adapting to their inhumane conditions. One day a new boy, Erling (17), arrives with his own agenda; how to escape from the island. How far is he willing to go in order to get his freedom? Written by
Where are you going now? Manager's galley boy.
Don't blame me that you broke the rules.
Was it easier for you to read me the rules than to tell the manager what Bråthen does with Ivar in the laundry room? Or the rules are like that too?
You promised me, you devil.
Or do you dare not say anything, now that you're about to get your signature?
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Kongen av Bastøy is based on actual events happening on the Bastøy correctional facility for difficult boys, back in 1915. The Norwegian island Bastøy is located in the Oslo fjord, between Horten and Moss, about an hours drive south of Norway's capitol, what until 1919 was called Christiania before changing name back to original Oslo.
Marius Holst has made another good film about young boys coping with coming of age. This time he has gone to the core of coping with misplaced childhoods. Well acted, and very true to it's time frame, Kongen of Bastøy, is very believable story made with a 10 million dollar budget. Stellan Skarsgård, Kristoffer Joner, Benjamin Helstad and Trond Nilssen does the very best of method acting of their characters.
The story is both sore, dramatic and tragic, as well as true. It tries to both tell Norwegian history back when the country was poor, and when it was likely to be sent on a whaling ship, being a youngster from difficult background. So why is this film not a 10 out of 10. so many of these heart-wrenching stories easily make you get tears in your eyes.
Well, I'm afraid to say that this is a true story's dilemma. Making the best possible story come out in a film, you have to love of eel for the characters. The young boys on this facility is not the ones easy to love. They are brutal, uneducated, cheeky, unable to show affection and victims of a difficult past. Though Marius Holst tries to make us understand and feel affection for both the kids and the "wardens" in this boys home, I simply can't really start to like any of the characters.
Well acted, well written, but does director Holst really make us care? He has shown he know how to do this in the great story of "Cross my heart and hope to die", In Norwegian: "Ti kniver i hjertet" and "Mirsush" or "Blodsbånd", and succeeded well there. In Kongen av Bastøy which is a story of 10 years in progress, the trouble is that he had to face reality.
Telling a story on difficult boys, obviously has to show the boys how they are. And Marius Holst is no "tears-seeker". Neither is his leading actor in this. He obviously has felt this story has to be told. And as a historic manuscript on how one solved this cases of difficult boys back then, it functions very well. Just don't expect to really care. Maybe this makes the film even better. It should, but I'm afraid I still feel it lacks this. To really be able to touch a movie-goer, the fictional adding would have done the trick. making the film an even better story, but less true. That's the dilemma of telling a true story. If you want the story to be loved, you gotta add the elements of heart and soul, even if it would be untrue to the story told.
So for this cold bastard, I'm afraid this is just a good told story, and not a classic as I'd like it to be, and maybe also therefore not the possible box office hit it would have been, if made as a heart wrenching story.
Making a film like this loved, really need us to identify. This is the only true trouble with an otherwise great film.
Bastøy correctional facility was closed down in the fifties, when Norway was recovering from the 2nd World war. Now there's a prison out there. I'm sure a lot of kids was growing up hating Bastøy. Bastøy still have a negative sound for Norwegians, well deserved.
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