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KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND (Kongen av Bastøy) is an experience more than a
film. It dares to take the viewer where all is black and white,
emotionally and visually, and while the film is shot in color, the only
moment of color in this dark, atmospherically eerie snow bound island
boys prison is the occasional blood and fire that creates even more of
an impact because of the bleak screen that serves as background for the
story. Based on a true story by Mette M. Bølstad and Lars Saabye
Christensen and adapted for the screen by Dennis Magnusson and Eric
Schmid, the fine cast is directed by Marius Holst.
In 1915 on the island Bastøy, located in the Oslo fjord, live a group of delinquent, young boys aged 11 to 18 in the Bastøy Boys Reform School. The boys daily, sadistic regime is run by the guards and Governor Bestyreren (Stellan Skarsgård) who is stern but seemingly fair in his management of the reform school (his wife lives with him in an opulent manner). But the Housemaster, a smarmy pedophile names Master Bråthen (Kristoffer Joner), is cruel and malicious and bestows both mental and physical abuse on the boys: the boys are used for cheap manual labor rather than being schooled and 'corrected' to return to society. The boys attempt to survive by adapting to their inhumane conditions. One day a new 17 year old boy, Erling who is assigned the 'name' C19 (Benjamin Helstad), arrives with his own agenda: how to escape from the island. How far is he willing to go in order to get his freedom? There is a stalwart lad Ivar/C5 (Magnus Langlete) who is due for release and a rather frail lad Olav/C1 (Trond Nilssen) who falls victim to the Master: these lads are C19's colleagues. After a tragic incident takes place, Erling ends up forced into the destinies of the other boys by leading them into a violent uprising. Once the boys manage to take over Bastøy 150 government soldiers are sent in to restore order. How he maneuvers the escape fantasy brings a surprising ending to the story.
The acting is first rate from a fine group of young actors. The cinematography is by John Andreas Andersen and the haunting musical score is by Johan Söderqvist. In Norwegian with English subtitles. A moody, deeply moving work. Grady Harp, February 12
It's such a shame the Norwegian Committee did not choose this film as
the contender for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The acting is top notch from all the main characters. Kristoffer Joner and Stellan Skarsgård's characters really gives you the chill, but the actors that really surprised was the newcomers Trond Nilssen and Benjamin Helstad characters. They delivered the best dialogs and very convincing acting.
If you are a sucker for true stories about injustice, mental and physical abuse and uprising against a brutal regime, then go watch this film now! Forget about The Troll Hunter, this is probably one of the best Norwegian films from the last decades.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Very strong drama with also very believable acting, taking place on a
prison island, from which no one ever has escaped. The strong
discipline, the pecking order between inmates, harsh punishments when
violating the rules, the religious beliefs of the governor, it is all
there to support the main theme.
The newcomer takes the lead in the story very quickly, thereby guided with fantasies a la Moby Dick (Melville), about a whale that struggles nearly a day in spite of three harpoons. He has not learned to read or write, but finds a fellow inmate to take notes. Throughout the film we return to this theme several times. The way he describes the struggling whale, works like a metaphor and is very compelling.
Near the end I expected a destructive finale like in IF (1968, by Lindsay Anderson), but this time they found something different to wrap up the story, more in line with a Greek tragedy. Very well done. Do not expect a happy ending, as you won't get any. The final music, however, allowed me to leave the theater with a positive feeling, regardless of the foregoing nearly 2 hours without any happy events.
Norwegian producer and director Marius Holst's fourth feature film
which was written by screenwriters Eric Schmid and Daniel Magnusson
after a story by writers Lars Saabye Christensen and Mette M. Bølstad,
is based on actual events which took place during the rebellion at
Bastøy in late May 1915. It premiered in Norway, was screened and the
opening film at the 34th Gothenburg International Film Festival in
2011, was shot on location in Estonia and is a
Norway-France-Poland-Sweden co-production which was produced by
Norwegian producer and director Karin Julsrud. It tells the story about
17-year-old Erling Kaspersen who during a cold winter in the early 20th
century arrives at Bastøy Boys Home, a boarding school and correctional
institution for maladjusted young boys with afflicting backgrounds
which was, in order to isolate the boys from society, located at a
remote island in the Oslofjord 4 km southeast of the coastal town and
municipality Horten. After being placed by Governor Håkon in apartment
C which is run by the tyrannic Housefather Braaten and named "C19",
Erling befriends Olav "C1" who has lived at Bastøy for several years.
Erling is determined to escape from the island, but as he becomes more
aware of the staffs' mistreatment of the boys and learns from his
friend Olav that the introverted and quiet boy Ivar is being molested
by Housefather Braaten, he stays there to rebel against the injustice
that is being conducted by the Governor and his assistants.
Precisely and engagingly directed by Norwegian filmmaker Marius Holst, this beautifully visualized and finely paced historic reconstruction of real events, draws an invariably moving portrayal of a young man in revolt who refuses to be subdued by exploitative authority figures who arrogantly informs him that their and his aim is to find the the honorable, humble and useful little Christian boy inside him. While notable for its fine milieu depictions, cinematography by Norwegian cinematographer John Andreas Andersen, production design by Polish production designer Janusz Sosnowski, costume design by costume designer Katja Watkins, film editing by Polish film editor Michal Leszczylowski and use of sound, colors and light, this narrative-driven and riveting humanistic drama about coming of age, friendship and malpractice within a state-financed reform school for young boys in South Norway, contains a significant atmosphere which is enriched by Swedish composer Johan Söderqvist's good score and the timeless sounds of Sigur Rós.
This poignant and echoingly heartrending retelling of an utterly dark chapter in Norwegian history which became the most expensive Norwegian film production since Norwegian filmmakers Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning's "Max Manus" (2008), depicts multiple studies of character, is narrated by one of the main character's and from various viewpoints and is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, subtle continuity, reverent style of filmmaking and the commendable and involving acting performances by Norwegian actors Benjamin Helstad, Trond Nilssen in his debut feature film role, Kristoffer Joner and Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård. A memorable and one of the great Norwegian films which gained, among other awards, the Amanda Award for Best Norwegian Film In Theatrical Release, Best Score Johan Söderqvist and Best Supporting Actor Trond Nilssen at the 27th Amanda Awards in 2011.
Heart rendering true story about an uprising at a notorious
correctional facility for juveniles on a Norwegian island. When a new
prisoner arrives Erling (Ben Helstand), his unrelenting passion to
escape, prevail against repression, and rebel against authority figures
immediately puts him in hot water. The young men in this facility must
endure horrendous conditions, as well as physical and mental abuse
daily. Eriling's unflinching bravery eventually and collectively
inspires and galvanizes these young men together in their life altering
uprising against oppression.
At first, the young men are unnamed (assigned numbers), completely alone, and without much hope for the future. However, Eriling's tenacious spirit leads to uniting broken spirits, establishing relationships, and not to be afraid to follow your dreams. The cinematography and barren landscape perfectly captures and enhances the cold- hearted spirit of the corrections facility, and the people who run it. The metaphor that is used throughout the film, and the evolving story of the "harpooner" is just perfect. Never falls victim to cheap melodrama; inspirational and touching. Impressive achievement by director Marius Hoist. Both performances by Stellan Skarsgard and Benjamin Heistad are simply marvelous.
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.
King of Devil's Island (2010)
A very straight forward, hard hitting, well acted account based on a true story of a boy's penal colony on a Norwegian Island early in the 20th Century.
That says it all. It is what it is, and there is the almost inevitable rebel and leader among the boys against the sometimes evil, sometimes indifferent adults who rule the group with false benevolence. You know who is right and who is wrong, and you follow the plot with a mixture of expectation and outrage. It's dramatic great stuff. Yes, been there and seen that somehow before, but it's severe and beautiful in its setting and intense and provocative within.
It might be interesting to compare this to more famous prison movies (the dubious "Shawshank" and earlier classics like "Birdman from Alcatraz") to realize how much this one is holding to a line of truth. As much as the events are extreme (eventually), the filmmaking is filled with restraint. Compare further to a movie like "Shutter Island" and you know that this one is practically a grey, subdued documentary.
And this is to its advantage. It's not a mind-blowing experience in cinema terms--it's just a really well done, focused, sensitive telling of a forgotten story of repression and survival and maybe, in the end, the every lifting human spirit.
Another piece of Norwegian greatness. KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND (great
title, incidentally) is one of those
based-on-a-true-story-you've-never-heard-of movies, charting the
brutality of life inside a remote and wintry island-based borstal
during the early 20th century.
Coming across as a Norwegian version of the hard-hitting British SCUM, KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND is great whichever way you look at it. The technical qualities are excellent, as is the acting from a mostly no-name cast whose one main star is Stellan Skarsgard, as miserable and burly as he's ever been. It's the developing relationship between Benjamin Helstad and Trond Nilssen that really makes this involving viewing, despite the distasteful elements of the subject matter and the general feeling that this isn't going to have a happy ending.
In any case, I absolutely loved this film and want to see more like it. The Scandinavian countries seem to be turning out hit after hit at the moment, both in television and film, and it's a shame Britain and the USA couldn't follow some of their cues. If you want a lesson in how to make an exceptional bit of drama then you could do a lot worse than checking out KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film tells the story of what happens in "house C" at a Norwegian
reform school in 1915. Bastøy is a strict, prison-like environment
situated on an island, and the conditions are very harsh. It was a
different time when people had authoritarian inclinations about
religion, child-rearing and delinquency.
The story hinges on three characters and their stories: the struggles of a newcomer to adapt (Erling, played by Benjamin Helstad), the moral dilemma of a long-term inmate who has succeeded in this environment (Olav, played by Trond Nilssen), and the housemaster who enjoyed this world far too much, despite the low pay (Bråthen, played by Kristoffer Joner). The other main characters include an abused boy and a self-serving headmaster. Near the end, the movie takes an unexpected turn as things get out of hand. However, I don't want to give anything away. Let's just say the ending might remind you of "Lord of the Flies".
Like Bastøy itself, the film has a brooding, trapped, isolated, cold and colourless feel. The director (Marius Holst) succeeds brilliantly in recreating this world and showing the moviegoer, in a spare and direct style, what an institution like this might have been like for the boys who had to stay there. I think much of the power of this movie is simply in recapturing this world in detail, including the hollowness of the constructs that allowed it to exist. I can't remember a movie where this has been done so effectively, although parts of this movie reminded me of "The Magdalene Sisters". I appreciated the director not dealing with this hastily, glibly, sensationally, explicitly, romantically or melodramatically. This is a deliberate, understated film.
We are shown a primitive, limited and non-verbal place filled with challenged and affectionless boys. I'm not sure how much character development you can have (without resorting to Hollywood stereotypes); however, still the director and writers succeeded in developing these characters incrementally by letting us hear their dialogue and especially by showing us their actions. The moviegoer has to pay attention though. I can't say I was moved by this movie, but I found it gripping and did come to care for the characters.
The modern human spirit sinks when confronted with the reality of institutions like this. Many countries are struggling to understand nowadays why they set up schools like this in the not-so-distant past. The film feels uncomfortably familiar. As we all know now, places like this were abusive institutions that provided a haven for small-minded and abusive men, including a few with pedophile tendencies. Bastøy was no different. I would like to hear the justifications of those who used to run these places, but of course few of them are around now. Of those who are around, few are willing to defend themselves. What could they say?
The direction, the writing, the cinematography, the acting all of it was excellent.
Surely I am not the only one noticing that little Norway is producing rather good movies lately? Is anyone in the Netherlands producing movies of this quality? If so, I don't know who.
In the U.S., Alcatraz used to serve as a prison known to the inmates as
"The Rock," a place where criminals were sent in a boat, the island
from which few had ever been known to escape. In Norway, until 1957,
criminal children, even those committing relatively minor crimes were
sent to an Island Prison on the island of Batsoy, another dismal
isolation from which there was supposedly no escape. "The King of
Devil's Island" as another young man arrives after committing a murder,
consigned to the prison's special diet of silence and discipline, work
amid dismally spartan conditions. The new inmate, after the usual give
and take with more dominant prisoners, most of them young teens,
manages to find himself a friend, sharing his plan to be the first to
attempt a getaway.
Animosity between the inmates and those in charge, one of them an unregenerate pedophile and another taking money that should go to the welfare of the prisoners, develops quickly, and a steady intensity is constantly building--not with the buckets of profanity that pepper an American prison film, but a series of darker, psychological twists evolving from our knowledge of many of the young men involved.
Although in color, the atmosphere is dark, the skies seldom blue, the woods dark, the walks snowy: it is a moody film, but never lets the tension loosen much. I found it gripping and intense, building to a smashing final scene: not necessarily conclusive, but totally satisfying. The acting is universally excellent, the underlying music score appropriate without being intrusive. This well-made film was fully worthy of my time.
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