Monday, June 29, 2015

Blücher (1988)

Director: Oddvar Bull Tuhus                              Writer: Sverre Årnes
Film Score: Lillebjørn Nilsen                              Cinematography: Harald Gunnar Paalgard
Starring: Helge Jordal, Frank Krog, Hege Schøyen and Geir Børresen

Before there was Titanic, and even before Leviathan, the idea of underwater salvage had been explored in this Norwegian thriller entitled Blücher, after the name of a German warship that the protagonists are after. The film is one of industrial espionage, which can run the gamut from high drama like The Formula from 1980 or hokey like Duplicity from 2009. This one falls in the former camp. Blücher, though a financial success, was also the last feature film from director Oddvar Bull Tuhus who had achieved a good deal of critical success in the seventies. In 1973 he was awarded the Norwegian Film Critic’s Prize for his film Maria Marusjka, and two years later his documentary drama Streik! was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. After this film the writer-director-producer went into feature film production as well as television work for Norwegian television primarily in the area of drama. His work here is solid and while not necessarily a gripping thriller in the American sense, it has its moments. The underwater photography is terrific as well, and the real high point of the film as whole, especially as many of the underwater scenes take place at night.

The film opens in front of a diving salvage business, with Helge Jordal telling his partner that they need to get going of they’re going to get to the dive on time. From there the credits roll on a calm ocean in the dark, at water level, with Jordal and Frank Krog in a rowboat. They’re diving at night to salvage a German cruiser that they want to get to because they have been blackballed for illegal salvaging in the past. At the same time a German industrialist, Edwin Christie, arrives in Oslo amid protests because Norwegians believe he was a Nazi during the war, and the only thing that can prove his past affiliations are the documents aboard the ship. Several people have attempted to get into the ship, which is lying upside down on the bottom of the Oslofjord, but all have died trying. Norwegian government officials, meanwhile, are angry because they can only make the deal if the demonstrations stop. The police discover Jordal and Krog the next morning, still in their boat, but they keep their success at finding a way in a secret, and when the police report appears in the papers the next day newspaper photographer Hege Schøyen shows up at their door wanting to take pictures of the wreckage. She turns out to be the daughter of Jack Fjeldstad, head of the Norwegian company doing the deal, attempting to get ahold of the documents before the divers can bring them up from the bottom.

Things get complicated when the two men fall for Schøyen and she works them against each other. Meanwhile a real news reporter, Geir Børresen, wants the story as well and is willing to blackmail Krog about a scandal from his past to get him to comply, all while the government’s strong-arm man in the form of police chief Bjorn Fløberg, is pressuring Fjeldstad to get the deal finalized. Throughout the film, Jordal and Krog manage to stay one step ahead of everyone, the police, Fjeldstad, and even Schøyen. That is, until Fløberg hires a hit man to take the divers out. The plot is convoluted one, especially because the interests of the government and Fjeldstad are the same and yet Fjeldstad is under the gun to keep the documents from falling into the hands of the media. Lillebjørn Nilsen and Arlis Andersen’s score for the film make effective use of acoustic blues guitar and some nice slide work, a welcome relief from the synthesizer-driven scores at the time in the U.S., or even in Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot from three years earlier. The other notable aspect is the cinematography itself, under the direction of Oddvar Bull Tuhus. It is also very European in the late eighties style, again, much different from the American films from this time. The acting by the principals might be below what Hollywood has to offer, but there are enough other positive aspects of the production to make Blücher recommended viewing for fans of European films.

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