Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Denmark/Norway/Sweden/Belgium, 2019. Wingman Media ApS, Piraya Film A/S, Laika Film & Television, Associate Directors, Danske Dramatikere, Eurimages, Sveriges Television, The Bertha Foundation, Film i Vast, BBC Storyville, RTBF Documentaries, GEO Television, Doc Society, Nordisk Film Fond, Norsk Filminstitutt, Svenska Filminstitutet, Fritt Ord, Filmkraft Rogaland, Flanders Audiovisual Fund, Hinterland, The tax shelter of the Belgian Federal Government, Flanders Film Funding, VRT / Canvas, VPRO TV, Against Gravity, Norsk Rikskringkasting, Yleisradio, Ríkisútvarpið-Sjónvarp, SH Channel 8, Danmarks Radio, Konsul George Jorck og hustru Emma Jorcks fond, Det Danske Filminstitut, Danske Filminstruktører, Den Vestdanske Filmpulje, DR Sales. Screenplay by Mads Brügger. Cinematography by Tore Vollan. Produced by Peter Engel, Andreas Rocksén, Bjarte Mørner Tveit. Music by John Erik Kaada. Film Editing by Nicolás Nørgaard Staffolani.
In September of 1961, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, was en route to ceasefire negotiations over the Congo Crisis when his plane crashed, killing all passengers on board. Rumors of an assassination quickly inspired conspiracy theories that later led to the discovery of documents that have been public knowledge for quite some time, some brought to public attention as recently as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in the late nineties. Journalist and filmmaker Mads Brügger has taken the information he has collected with fellow journalist Göran Björkdahl relating to the crash and Hammarskjold’s death and assembles a narrative that tells a terrifying story about Apartheid-era South Africa, focusing on one of its dirtiest secrets: the crash is linked to the South African Institute for Maritime Research, the purposely misleading name of a black-ops merchant military operation that was led by a now-deceased madman named Keith Maxwell. Talking to surviving key players in the history of SAIMR’s existence turns this organization into the film’s protagonist, revealing that Maxwell was involved in Hammarskjöld’s death as well as plots to kill black Africans through intentional spreading of the AIDS virus. Claims in this documentary have been clarified, challenged and refuted (some of which make it into the end title cards), but Brügger doesn’t play the story out in any way that feels irresponsible; there are enough times that he calls out when theories are based on unverified inference and he does not hide his own joyful glee at putting the facts together in the way that suits an exciting thriller plot. Brügger anchors the storytelling in two running sequences that show him narrating the script to two different African women, who have been hired as his secretaries for typing up notes (on manual typewriters, no less), and their reactions both verbal and silent to what he tells them are the anchor of this film (regardless of whether or not you feel they are presented as individuals or exploited as symbols). Brügger cuts a colourful figure, dressing up in costume and expressing his emotional reactions to the things he has learned on the road to solving this mystery, sort of a Lars von Trier but with discipline and an awareness of the limits of his appeal. The explosive conclusion has Brügger and Björkdahl meet with Alexander Jones, a man who claims to have worked with Maxwell personally and puts the final, confirming word on the history of SAIMR and its connection to the CIA; what you make of his testimony (and the fact that he followed it by going into hiding) is up to you, but there’s no denying the level of absorption this film commands of your attention and the charisma with which it is performed.