The Movie Waffler DVD Review - <i>THE SABOTEURS</i> | The Movie Waffler

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DVD Review - THE SABOTEURS

Arrow's DVD release of the WWII drama series.

Review by Benjamin Poole




"The Saboteurs doesn’t allow us the luxury of sitting back and treating the real life heavy water plot as entertainment, it expects us to meet it on its own terms, as challenging and uncomfortable as they may be. Like the heroic figures within, whose mission is ultimately a hard won success, The Saboteurs refuses to compromise."


Earlier this week, I reviewed a horror film set in a Nazi occupied Romanian forest during World War II, the plot of which involved the SS and black magic. In the absence of much to write about the film itself, I pondered instead on the pervasive convention of using the Nazis and their barbarism for fantastical, escapist entertainment. I ended the review with a glib comment about how it may be high time horror gave the Nazis a rest now, and instead graduated to exploiting other real life atrocites - how many more stories can use this spiked imagery before our response to the source material is blunted? Immediately after, I watched the whole of the six episode, Norwegian-Danish-British television co-production, The Saboteurs. Although completely dissimilar to the horror film in terms of its approach to, and respect for, history, The Saboteurs reminds us that, all this time later, there are still many important stories about World War II that can be articulated; accounts of sacrifice and loss, and of victory and excitement. Stories that deserve to be told.
Over its 270 minute run time, The Saboteurs' multifaceted narrative spans months, numerous north European countries and three interweaving plot threads. The story begins with real life physicist Heisenberg (insert obligatory Breaking Bad joke here), extorted by the Nazis to work on creating a nuclear reactor; the genesis of which depends on the usage of heavy water, which is specifically created in fat cat Erik Henriksen’s (Dennis Storhøi) plant, situated in the icy Norwegian mountains. The allies, led by Julie Smith (Anna Friel, all sharp cheekbones and steely determination) and Leif Tronstad (Espen Klouman Høiner), send in a hastily assembled team to incapacitate the factory. While these men are the eponymous saboteurs, the show’s title takes on polysemic meaning; there are the literal saboteurs of the team, but the title can also refer to all characters - Heisenberg himself, played with insidious intensity by Christoph Bach, his eyes narrowing from dreamy optimism to monomania as he rationalises his task within the context of science, sabotaging his family life and his own morality in the process; Henriksen the factory owner and his wife, seduced by the prestige of their position, but also fearful of repercussion, caught between heavy water and a hard place; and the Allies, whose decisions will inexorably lead to bloodshed and collateral damage in their Pyrrhic design of achieving the lesser of two evils.
It is easy to see how The Saboteurs was such a resounding success when broadcast in its native Norway. Using gorgeously realised period detail to recreate scenes which smoothly traverse from tight, shady backrooms where deals are made and fates decided, to the vast open plains of snow blown mountaintops and devastated cityscapes razed by bombings, the show is visually sumptuous. The themes of dissension and arbitration are treated sensitively, and with balance; that this is a six episode show allows for characterisation which runs deeper than simple binary motivations of good vs. bad, instead suggesting the disturbing interfusion of ignorance and fear that led people to sanction and accept what happened to Europe at this time (in fact, we rarely see the higher echelons of the Nazi party, or even the Wehrmacht: the focus is on the people affected by the conflict). Thrillingly, The Saboteurs manages to balance action sequences with its careful characterisation too, with a heart-stopping ski chase through the Gaustatoppen slopes a particular highlight, along with obligatory ‘getting the team together’ montages.
The Saboteurs is not without flaws; the opening two episodes are ponderous, and the pace glacial in those early moments. But this deliberate plotting is necessary in order to arrange the chess pieces ready for the careful manipulation of the latter episodes. The slow pace is also indicative of the show’s obdurate nature: a multi-national production, the dialogue takes a polyglot approach, with characters either speaking German, Norse or English (with corresponding subtitles), depending on the given situation. The Saboteurs doesn’t allow us the luxury of sitting back and treating the real life heavy water plot as entertainment, it expects us to meet it on its own terms, as challenging and uncomfortable as they may be. Like the heroic figures within, whose mission is ultimately a hard won success, The Saboteurs refuses to compromise.




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