Soldiers, Resisters, Collaborators and Misguided Patriots:

History Culture, Memory Landscapes and the Representations of World War II in Contemporary Danish Cinema

Mikołaj Kunicki

 

The last two decades have seen a surge in war movies in traditionally self-ascribed pacifist Scandinavia. While Norway could boast on the staunch resistance against the 1940 Nazi invasion and resistance movement, it also had to acknowledge the collaborationist government of Vidkun Quisling, whose name had become synonymous with Nazi collaboration. At the same time, Denmark has been consistently described by historians of World War II as the least brutalised and suffering country in Nazi-occupied Europe. For several post-war decades, the Danes took comfort in their pragmatic policies toward the Nazi occupation, which had seen the existence of the national government until 1943 and the assistance to the small Jewish community, which survived the war nearly intact due to the efforts of the Danish resistance.

 

Like other national film industries in the Baltic region, Danish cinema did venture into war territories. However, the significant breakthrough occurred in the 2000s with the release of Flame and Citron (Flammen & Citronen, 2008), a popular, nuanced and critically acclaimed story of the Danish resistance liquidators of Nazi collaborators and Gestapo officers. What followed has been a series of war films and TV dramas that break away from the traditional, self-congratulatory patriotic narrative, which emphasised resistance and downplayed collaboration and offer more complex portrayals of war-era Denmark. April 9th (9 april, 2015) highlights the resistance against the Nazi invasion offered by a Danish unit in the act of epic proportions, even though the country was conquered within a matter of hours and without much bloodshed. This ‘mini-wave’ of war films also contains such ‘revisionist’ takes on Denmark’s history as Land of Mine (Under sandet, 2016) about the post-war treatment of German POWs, Into the Darkness (De forbandede år, 2020) on the cooperation of Danish political and economic elites with the Nazis, and The Shadow in My Eye/The Bombardment (Skyggen i mit øje, 2021).

 

This paper argues that this ‘war revival’ reflects contemporary Danish politics, particularly ‘moral turns’ that have re-assessed the Nordic countries’ involvement in World War II, public debates that involve politicians, media, and historians, and visions of national identity in present-day Denmark. Furthermore, it also proposes that some if not all these films can be labelled as 'activist', a fact that signifies the ongoing relevance of the conflict for Danish society and culture. Lastly, it points to the pivotal role played by film consultants in the national film industry.

Mikołaj Kunicki is an adjunct professor at the Institute of Journalism and Social Communication, University of Wrocław. He taught history at the University of Oxford, University of Notre Dame and University of California at Berkeley. From 2013 to 2016 he was the director of Programme on Modern Poland in St Antony’s College. Kunicki received his PhD in history from Stanford University in 2004. His research concentrates on communism, nationalism, authoritarianism and their relationships with popular cultures of cinema and performing arts. He is the author of Between the Brown and the Red: Nationalism, Catholicism and Communism in Twentieth Century Poland (2012) as well as articles and book chapters on the 20th-century Polish and European history, cinema, nationalism and contemporary politics.