07 September 2013

Norway's greatest resistance hero

Max Manus, via Wikimedia
Last night I watched the 2008 Norwegian wartime biopic Max Manus, which highlights the astonishing bravery of Norway's greatest resistance fighter of the war. Norway was occupied by the Germans from April 1940 until May 1945, and during that time Max Manus (1914-96) was a constant thorn in the side of the German occupiers, escaping from Gestapo captivity to flee from Norway and eventually, by a circuitous route through the USSR, Turkey, Arabia, South Africa, the US and Canada, ending up in Britain to train as a saboteur. Aside from his legendary elusiveness, limpet mines were Manus' speciality, and with them he (and colleague Roy Nielsen) effected his most famous exploit in January 1945. Ten limpet mines were attached to the SS Donau, a 9000-ton freighter the Kriegsmarine had commandeered for troop transport work. The Donau sailed shortly after the mines were placed, and was sunk at Drøbak, a short distance south from the capital down the Oslofjord. After the war Manus started a successful office supply company, and he later retired to Spain.

The film Max Manus stands as a fine testament to the man, depicting both his enormous bravery and the psychological impact of the violence and loss that his resistance work brought. Aksel Hennie is excellent portraying the heroic but tortured Manus. The film is a big-budget affair, with hundreds of extras and major outdoor shots in urban areas and impressive set-dressing, which must have been a logistical nightmare. I wonder who they found to make that giant swastika ice sculpture, for one thing. The CGI use is particularly commendable - it's unobtrusive, and enough work has been put in to allow the director to pull off several key shots that would not have been possible only a few years ago.



I visited Norway in 2008 and at the Norsk Folkemuseum I caught a glimpse of wartime life for Norwegians during the occupation. Strict rationing was in place, and the Germans also banned loitering outside the state monopoly alcohol shops. So enterprising Norwegians did their best to be 'just passing' immediately before the store opened, and then all piled in to try to secure some all-important hooch, as can be seen in the before-and-after shots below, taken during the occupation.


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