Monday, February 6, 2012

King of Devil's Island

The actual Norwegian film of the week is not "Norwegian Wood," which is, of course, Japanese, but rather "King of Devil's Island," an odd little movie, not badly made, about a real-life boys' correctional facility located on an island outside Oslo (or, when the film is set early in the 20th century, Christiania). The movie has a strong sense of place; it's just not a place you particularly want to be.

Stellan Skarsgard is the one name actor in the cast. He plays the governor of the facility, who believes he can find and shape the good in any boy brought to him. His - and his lieutenant's - means of extrapolating the good include excruciating physical labor, public humiliation and vilification, physical and mental punishment, and more. The movie is stuffed to nearly two hours with too much of this material.

There are also too many stock characters and situations: a doomed escape attempt, allegations of sexual abuse by one of the house fathers, an uprising in which the children threaten to take over the island. Yet the lead children's roles are clearly distinguished and well-drawn, and their stories occasionally interesting. The movie well conveys the harshness of the Norwegian winter and landscape.

Ultimately, though, it doesn't have quite enough new to say and takes a bit too long to say it.

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