Betrayal promises an glamorous story of scandal and deceit during the German occupation of Norway, and it delivers. But is that enough?
If it was, this film would be perfect. The attention to period detail is more than a little Mad Men-esque, in that it is both stylish and mesmerising, and whilst I can’t claim to have witnessed the 1940-45 German occupation of Norway first-hand, I’m willing to bet that, design-wise, Betrayal is pretty accurate, too.
To his credit, Håkon Gundersen, who both wrote and directed the film, ensures that it plays to it’s aesthetic strong-points. Club Havana provides a smoky and evocative backdrop to a good portion of the film’s most crucial scenes. Lene Nystrøm – who fronted 90’s Norwegian pop group Aqua, although you’d never know it – takes on the role of sultry nightclub singer and British double agent, Eva.
If ever there was ever a film that might be accused of over-glamorising the lives of spies during the second world war, then this is it. Nystrøm covertly flits from lover to lover, copying keys and trading secrets, pausing only to swap evening gowns and sexily smoke her wartime cigarettes. She does this with such charisma that it begins not to matter, both to us and the men whom she is deceiving, what she might so with such information.
In fact, I could have quite happily have watched a couple of hours of Eva’s singing and schmoozing without giving so much as a second thought to a story-line – at least, not one more complex than you might expect to find in a sort of retro version of Sex And The City. Unfortunately, it seems that Gundersen didn’t feel quite the same way.
Instead, there’s plots and sub-plots all over the place, most of which involve comparatively dull men, all of which wear uniforms that make them annoyingly difficult to differentiate. The based-on-a-true-story plot follows nightclub owner Tor Lindblom (Fridtjov Såheim) as he collaborates with SS-Sturmbandfürer Krüger (Götz Otto) and the pair plan to make their fortune from the construction of an aluminium plant. Both are involved with Eva, but her heart lies with her ex-boyfriend Svenn Nordanger (Kåre Conradi), to whom she reveals their various secrets.
It’s a scenario which should install this film with much intrigue and suspense, but the dialogue isn’t gripping enough and other characters struggle to hold audience attention as well as Eva, even when they start making shock revelations and waving guns at each other.
Perhaps the most off-putting thing about Betrayal is the strange English-language book-ends which accompany this foreign feature. Set in modern-day America, a granddaughter asks her suspiciously American-sounding grandmother how she came to live there. Thus we are given a needless introduction to the film’s actual events, in a scene which remains unvisited until the final minutes of the film. Here, said granddaughter reappears, amazed by the adventures of her now-elderly relative. It’s hard to say just how these scenes made the film’s final cut, but they only serve to cheapen what is otherwise a visually captivating, if not overly complex, film. When Betrayal was first released in Norway, critics viewed it as something of missed opportunity to create an outstanding piece of Norwegian cinema. Having seen it myself, I’m inclined to agree.