The Bombardment (also known as The Shadow in My Eye) is a harrowing chronicle of a tragic moment in Denmark’s history when Operation Carthage, an RAF maneuver, went horribly wrong. Written and directed by Ole Bornedal, this vivid and emotive retelling captures the life and times of wartime Copenhagen in 1945 as two buildings come into sharp focus. One the Shellhus and headquarters of the undercover Gestapo, who are still trying to weed out members of the resistance with the help of the HIPO police force, the other a neighbouring Catholic school where nuns, teachers and students try to keep their heads down. As WWII draws to a close, Denmark are still under military occupation with acts of violence peppering everyday life for ordinary citizens as the Gestapo, HIPO and members of the resistance face off. Having grown up in a state of war, this is normal for the children at the school who come up with coping mechanisms of their own.
The suspenseful war ensemble drama journeys with several characters… Henry, a boy who becomes mute after witnessing a taxi being gunned down; Frederik, who wrestles with his role as a treacherous HIPO thug, Sister Teresa, who is struggling with her faith as well as world-weary innocents, Eva and her friend Rigmor. Bertram Bisgaard Enevoldsen tackles a difficult role as Henry as he tries to make sense of the deep-set trauma of seeing civilians shot down. Then, while Alex Hogh Andersen’s piercing eyes and tightrope character linger, it’s Fanny Bornedal whose nuanced turn as a nun questioning her beliefs in the rigours of war that makes the biggest impression.
The Gestapo realise an attack may be imminent, which prompts them to imprison resistance fighters in the rafters of the Shellhus building as human shields and a deterrent to bombing operations. Moving between scenes of everyday life in Copenhagen and the impending air raid from Norwich, things build to a fever pitch as three de Havilland squadrons cross the English Channel to execute their ill-fated mission.
The Bombardment is a beautifully realised film of authenticity, mood and powerful emotion. The wartime scenario portrays a conflicted Copenhagen, where the ever-present threat of violence permeates as a not-so-quiet uprooting takes place. While World War II visuals tend to overuse the Nazi swastika, it only really features once in The Bombardment. While this insignia is present, the film takes on an unconventional and fresh approach in detailing the tragedy of a misguided air strike. Getting an on-the-ground perspective by allowing the story to unfold from the perspective of its young characters, The Bombardment offers a wide spectrum view of the incident.
“I guess you could call this gun-nunning.”
The mood mirrors many other dreary war dramas, playing it quite safe in terms of visuals and adopting an equally typical score to harness emotion. Bornedal has a great eye for visual poetry and while this adds panache, it can be quite heavy-handed at times. The mood could have remained in a perpetual cycle of spiraling depression, yet has glimmers of hope amid some violent and callous acts of war see-sawing between the innocence of children and the darkness of the tortured soul. When it comes to the emotional undertow, it’s powerful even if taken from some distance and within the context of recent happenings in the Russo-Ukraine invasion. While the collective of performances is good, Bornedal keeps things at an arm’s length to make this more about the incident than identifying with any one specific character.
In what you could call a war disaster movie, the closest thing to having a lead is Henry, the golden thread, whose trauma and submergence into not being able to speak serves as the undercurrent of constant trauma for every character afflicted by the atrocities of war. The character becomes a capsule for the bigger story at play. While a few favourites emerge, just as many characters enter with potential to develop but fall to the wayside, there to follow through on orders and simply add to the atmosphere.
The visual effects are mostly perfunctory, sometimes coming across like paintings of Copehagen buildings, while the actual bombing operation is horrific as delayed fuse bombs do untold damage. In the aftermath of the bombing raid, the production harnesses a realism and grittiness from broken glass, building rubble and billowing smoke to civilian casualties. As with many war films, The Bombardment is not for sensitive viewers, grappling with difficult subject matter in a much more overt manner than Life is Beautiful. War is hell, made all the more hellish in causing extensive civilian collateral damage when a simple error forces a carefully planned operation to go awry. The Bombardment’s dramatisation brings this stomach-twisting reality to screen, made all the more real by a list of the fallen preceding the closing credits.
The Bombardment captures the sights and sounds of this World War II incident from an unconventional perspective, shedding light on a tragic event with emotive power and raw violence. It does so with flair, passion and insight, crafting exquisite visuals, an apt soundtrack and harnessing some fine performances from a relatively unknown cast. Unfortunately, while the war drama has visceral hits and a haunting atmosphere, it’s told at some distance. While this keeps the story broad, it loses some of its immediacy and emotional traction. The characters are thinly scripted, tending to focus on the action and events and it suffers by keeping the audience on the fringe. Coming in to land, it wavers in terms of pacing and consistency, ending on a flourish. It’s still a handsomely mounted production, worthy of your time, but fails to land a gut punch in its retelling of a tragic historical event.
The bottom line: Vivid