Segerstedt is considered the paragon of Swedish leftist journalists, but he had
no love for the Soviets. In 1924, the future critic of German National
Socialist marked the death of Lenin with an editorial castigating the deceased
dictator as a “curse” upon the Russian people, amongst other things. Of course,
the National Socialist and Communists were allies for good portion of his
career. Like a lone voice in the wilderness, Segerstedt inveighs against Hitler
and Swedish “neutrality” in Jan Troell’s biographical drama, The Last Sentence (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
was a difficult person, as his publisher Axel Forssman (the original “Axel F”)
could well attest. Despite their friendship and close professional ties,
Segerstedt was rather openly carrying on an affair with his wife Maja, a Jewish
heiress who shared Segerstedt’s editorial convictions even before the rise of
Hitler. Segerstedt’s emotionally damaged wife Puste is also fully aware of his
long term infidelity, but she is powerless to stop it.
Hitler consolidates power, Segerstedt welcomes him to the world stage with an
editorial so blistering it draws a protest from the German foreign ministry. Not
surprisingly, this only encourages crusading editor, but thoroughly panics the
new Swedish government. Soon, Segerstedt is contending with state censorship and taking
meetings with the king and prime minister, who are nt amused. Yet, he remains
maddeningly aloof from friends and family, even including Maja Forssman. Frankly,
Troell and co-screenwriter suggest his only real love was reserved for his
three dogs (two black hounds and a bulldog), which would be an odd similarity
between him and his favorite target for scorn.
clearly tries to remind viewers the principled dissenters of the world are
often self-absorbed jerk-heels, because they do not care what people think. There
is no question Segerstedt advocated for just causes, including Swedish military
intervention on behalf of Finland against the Soviets, but you would not want
to be married to him.
question, Segerstedt lived a dramatic life, but there is still something
unsatisfying about a film that chronicles the Winter War and WWII from the
perspective of a drawing room in a neutral country. Danish Jesper Christensen
plays the old Swedish newspaperman with perfect erudite severity, but viewers
will often feel he is giving them a withering stare over his spectacles during
an incredibly awkward editorial meeting.
contrast, Björn Granath accentuates Axel F’s low key decency and personal
pragmatism, making some sense out of his highly inequitable personal
relationships. As Forssman and Puste, Pernilla August (a.k.a. Anakin’s mom,
Shmi Skywalker) and Ulla Skoog are quite solid wrestling with their insecurities,
but they look so much alike, his infidelity seems inexplicably reckless.
Troell and co-DP Mischa Gavrjusjov’s
black-and-white cinematography is absolutely arresting, but the film in general
is a cold, standoffish affair. It is a cerebral work that forthrightly asks
where neutrality ends and collaboration by inaction begins, but it rarely
engages on an emotional level. Mostly recommended for longtime admirers of
Troell’s work (such as the finely crafted Everlasting Moments), The Last Sentence opens
this Friday (6/20) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.
Labels: Jan Troell, Scandinavian Cinema, Torgny Segerstedt