It seems somewhat fitting and ironic that on the opening night of the 28th Annual Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival the twit-blog-osphere would be all a-buzz with the 63rd Cannes lineup. Weerasethakul? Kiarostami? Oliveira? Hong? Godard? Who cares! We've got Joachim Rønning and some obscure WWII Norwegian film called Max Manus!
For the first time ever the MSPIFF opens, runs and ends in the same venue. Opening nights the past two years have commenced on the sterile grounds of the chain theater at Block E; the two years before that at the homey neighborhood one-screen giant the Riverview; and prior to that in the opulence of the Historic State Theater. Oh, those were the days! Hosting the 'opening gala' at the much more limited and humble setting of the St. Anthony Main Theaters (where the festival will run on five screens for the next two weeks) not only speaks to local organizational shifts, but also to a wider economic reality of film festivals. With access to films growing exponentially, creating a film event—like a film festival or a special repertory screening—seems both cutting edge and seriously old school. Thankfully, such screenings and festivals are able to draw crowds on both those characteristics. Year after year I am encouraged by the intrepid local audience, not only at MSPIFF, but also at the Trylon or the Heights or the Walker. These are people after my own heart, seeking out and reveling in unique film experiences.
Opening night at this year's MSPIFF was no different. St Anthony was buzzing with people excited to see a film that matters more to the local community, with strong Norwegian ties, than it does to industry hype, where Max Manus barely made a blip. Max Manus tells the story of the Norwegian resistance during Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1945. Max Manus, one of the leaders, is shuttled back and forth between Sweden, Norway and England to escape capture as his fellow soldiers are either killed or captured. Although my Norwegian WWII history is lacking, it is obvious that the film goes to great pains to be accurate. The set design is particularly impressive, especially those involving the bombing of the boats in Oslo Bay and the infamous bombing of the SS Donau. On par with the beach scene in Atonement, the physicality of the ships amongst a very specific setting is stunning. Although the production values are high in Max Manus, the story follows a very familiar trajectory that won't lead to any surprises. The Nazis are uncomplicated villains and our heroes are unequivocally self-sacrificing martyrs. Emotional bells and whistles perhaps work better on those more aware of the historical gravity of the narrative, but was overall bland despite engaging moments of battle or suspense. In attendance was Gunnar Sønsteby, part of the Norwegian resistance and portrayed in the film. He said a few words before the film and lended some credence to the film itself.
And so it begins. A crowd-pleasing opening to two weeks of film phantasmagoria that I have to figure out how to navigate. Stay tuned.