Betrayal is meant to be a Norwegian Black Book, but something is lost in translation.
It’s 1943, and the Germans are in Norway, collaborating with Norwegian businessmen upon a crucial aluminium plant. ‘Aluminium,’ says the voice-over, ‘that would become Nazi killing machines!’ Eva (Lene Nystrom), an agent for British intelligence and cabaret singer at the Club Havana, single-handedly tries to undermine this evil master-plan that could turn the tide of the war. For the German authorities, though, espionage is the least of their worries as they watch the project foundering under egregious levels of corruption.
Nazi-occupied Oslo makes Casablanca look like a finishing school for nuns. This is a city full of shady businessmen with thin moustaches and a penchant for resolving their differences with revolvers. In fact, it is the Norwegian business class who emerge as the true villains of the piece – unimpressed by Nazi dogma, sceptical of the Reich’s survival, but selling out to them anyway for short-term gain. By contrast, the Nazis – such as Walter (Jockel Tschiersch,) the auditor who arrives from Berlin to face a mountain of forged paperwork – have a certain warped integrity.
With one notable exception. Major Kruger (Gotz Otto) is a corrupt secret service policeman who is voted ‘German of the Year’ by the German-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce for his heroic services to graft. Luckily, he is as libidinous as he is avaricious, so it’s easy for Eva to infiltrate his bed.
With material like this – rich in decadence and jeopardy – it’s hard to see how writer/director Haakon Gundersen could miss, but sadly he does. The obvious model for this film was the marvellous Black Book. But whereas that was a doom-laden romantic thriller full of lush sexuality, Betrayal is a rather restrained affair with none of the nerve-jangling violence or photogenic nude scenes fans of the earlier film might expect.
Eva’s liaison with Kruger is disappointingly chaste, merely a question of rolling into bed, then straight out of it again. The script is so full of references to blueprints and construction problems, it’s like it’s been written by a team of chartered surveyors. There is one truly sensual moment – when a romantically-inclined industrialist puts a diamond-encrusted swastika around the cabaret singer’s neck and her porcelain skin tightens in horror – but otherwise the director loses focus on Eva’s moral and physical jeopardy in endless paper-shuffling scenes.
Having said that, Betrayal is beautiful to look at. Lene Nystrom is gorgeous as she struts in the latest Berlin fashions on the stage of the Club Havana, Gotz Otto has a barbaric charm as Kruger, and the sets and cinematography are exquisite. If only all that lovingly realized period detail had been animated with a more red-blooded story.
Best performance: Jockel Tschiersch
Most unwanted gift: Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a diamond swastika.