DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Erna at War (Erna i Krig)

Director - Henrik Ruben Genz - 2020

"Mostly clean movie"
Overprotective mother cross-dresses as a male soldier in order to join her "stupid" son in the trenches of WW1 - Danish drama starring Trine Dyrholm premieres at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN

If the movie description above sounds preposterous that’s for a reason. Erna at War is one of the most absurd and bizarre war films I have seen in a long time. And not purposely so. This is intended to be a serious war drama with a central female character. It cast two of the finest Danish actors in the lead roles: Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen. Despite the strong talent, this is a story so far-fetched that it fails to enrapture viewers.

It goes more or less like this: the formidable Erna Jensen (Dyrholm) leads a quiet and peaceful life with her timid son Kalle in Jutland during WW1. The Danish region has been occupied by German forces and men of all ages and physical strengths have been summoned to join the army, and Kalle is no exception. Erna does everything she can in order to prevent her only family member from departing. Upon realising that his refusal to join the War would be qualified as defection, which is punishable with the death sentence, Erna picks up the uniform of a murdered defector and joins the regiment herself, under the name of “Julius Ramussen”.

Just imagine a nagging mother in the WW1 trenches. Bombs are dropping and limbs are flying while Erna makes pancakes for her son’s birthday. And she will furiously stand on the way of anyone who bestows any remotely dangerous task upon her son. She constantly describes him as “stupid”, insisting that there is some sort of nobility is such ignorance. She also becomes some sort of motherly figure to the young soldiers, while two senior officers develop a different of affection for her. They include the besmitten Meyer (Thomsen). He juggles Erna’s whims (in the hope to marry her once WW1 is over) with the orders from his occupiers. He pretends to be faithful to the Germans, yet carries a Danish flag in his pocket. He’s the most profound and psychologically complex character of the film. The other ones are mostly flat.

Erna is a very strange role for Dyrholm. Firstly, she doesn’t even remotely resemble a man (particularly at closeup). Secondly, such motherly obsession is hardly palpable. Halfway through the movie, Erna clarifies the unusual circumstances under which Kalle came into this world, in an attempt to justify her extreme attitude – but such explanation is even more bizarre. As a result, the constant closeups of an actress recognised for her inventive use of facial expressions are just awkward. Ultimately, Dyrholm’s character is just silly.

This Danish/Belgian/Estonian co-production is based on Erling Jepsen’s novel of the same name, and I cannot comment on whether it’s loyal to the book. Perhaps this story would fare better as a more lyrical and non-conventional piece of storytelling, taking a lot of narrative and creative freedoms. It doesn’t work as a straightforward war drama with action sequences. The director said in an interview: “our budget didn’t allow us to have spectacular battle scenes”. Thank God. That would have been a waste of money and made the film even clumsier. Plus: be prepared for a cringeworthy ending.

Erna at War has just premiered at the 24th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It is part of the Main Competition.



"Mostly clean movie"

By Victor Fraga - 21-11-2020

By Victor Fraga - 21-11-2020

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based writer with more than 15 years...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
A small family of four lives in a [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Holidaying in Cambodia with Isaac (Ross McCall), Ben [Read More...]

Read More

Different blokes different strokes!

 

Paul Risker - 11-05-2021

Irish filmmaker Eoin Macken talks about adapting Rob Doyle’s novel HERE ARE THE YOUNG MAN, the challenges transposing literary lexicon and structure onto the silver screen, toxic masculinity and much more - in an exclusive interview [Read More...]

Servants (Služobníci)

Ivan Ostrochovský
2020

Victor Fraga - 10-05-2021

Two theology students grapple with the authoritarian Czechoslovakian regime and the collaborationist Catholic Church, in this somber and poetic period drama - on Curzon Home Cinema on Friday, May 14th, and also in selected cinemas [Read More...]

Once Upon a River

Haroula Rose
2020

Victor Fraga - 06-05-2021

Indigenous teen in search of her mother embarks on a literal and metaphorical journey with more twists and turns than the local river - in virtual cinemas and VoD on Friday, May 7th [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *