blog-lastsentence-061914

Few of us ever face a moral decision with life or death consequences, or that threatens to influence, however feebly, the course of history. This may be one reason why the moral calculations of men and women who lived during the rise of the Third Reich and the Second World War prove so durable as the subject of literature and film.
“The Last Sentence,” director Jan Troell’s account of a renowned Swedish newspaper editor, Torgny Segerstedt, who wrote early and forcefully against Hitler in his editorials, presents us with one such man. Yet instead of portraying this valorous figure as totally heroic, Troell does something more complicated — he presents a man whose personal life contains a strong dose of moral failure.
From Troell’s earliest frames, shot in the classic black and white of the period in question, we are in the hands of a master film craftsman. (Troell is best known in America for his award winning “The Emigrants” and “The New Land.”) Simple but compelling images of leaves floating on the surface of a clear shallow stream strike a poetic but also a philosophical note: Is the image a reminder of the way in which most of us “float” on the surface of life led by imperceptible currents?
One hesitates to make too much of this, especially once the story proper begins. Torgny is already a man past middle age, with a mane of carefully combed white hair thrust off his high forehead. In the dignified stature of the handsome Danish actor Jesper Christensen, Torgny is at once a combative intellectual and writer-polemicist, fearless in attacking Hitler mere days after his ascension: “Herr Hitler är en förolämpning” (“Mr. Hitler is an insult”) he begins an article. The challenge has been laid down, and Hermann Göring responds with a threatening telegram. Axel Forssman, Torgny’s publisher and close friend, backs his aggressive stance and allows his editorialist to proceed in a further published response to Göring’s telegram.

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