November 14, 2005
Nine Lives, 1957
Norwegian cinema is integrally rooted in the presentation of landscape as character, and this integration is particularly evident in Arne Skouen's Nine Lives. Told in extended flashback, the story is based on the real-life experience of resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud who became the sole survivor of a sabotage mission to blow up a German war boat anchored in then-occupied Norwegian territory, only to be betrayed at their reconnaissance point when their contact, a shoemaker named Hansen, is replaced by another shoemaker named Hansen who is sympathetic to the Fascist government of Vidkun Quisling. Forced to navigate his way through the mountains alone in order to cross the border into Sweden for safety and medical treatment for his injured leg (after sustaining a gunshot wound in the foot), Baalsrud inevitably stumbled into the kindness of strangers and other pockets of resistance fighters and sympathetic villagers willing to help him despite personal risk to ensure his safe crossing. Skouen's combination of spare dialogue with extended shots of Baalsrud and his guides navigating through the dangerous and inhospitable terrain (and unpredictable weather) of the mountains creates a taut and dramatic portrait of one person's perseverance and enduring spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity and seemingly inescapable death, a juxtaposition of man and unconquerable nature that also characterizes the atmosphere of the nation's wartime occupation.