The Bombardment (original title The Shadow in My Eye, or Skyggen i mit øje) would be a harrowing movie at any time. Right now, as the war in Ukraine escalates and dominates the newsreels, it’s an especially difficult watch. And, of course, all the more vital. Writer/director Ole Bornedal’s unflinching portrayal of this true-life tragedy doesn’t allow us to avert our gaze from the human cost of war.
Copenhagen, 1945. The city is in Nazi hands. Members of the Danish resistance have been strategically positioned under the roof of the Gestapo headquarters, forming a human shield the Germans hope will make the Allies think twice before bombing. The RAF devise a dangerous plan, to attack the building from the side. But it’s risky, not least because of how low the jets must fly, and hitting the right target is far from assured…
Bornedal’s deceptively scattershot approach to the story works well: the details accumulate to form a devastating account of what occupation and bombing really mean to the people on the ground – and in the air. There’s a whole host of characters – all vulnerable, all flawed, all damaged by the war. Frederik (Alex Høgh Andersen) is a traitor, despised by his family, working alongside the Nazis; Teresa (Fanny Bornedal) is a novice nun, her faith sorely tested by the horrors her God has failed to stop. Perhaps the most tragic figure of all is Henry (Bertram Bisgaard Enevoldsen), a young boy so traumatised by what he’s witnessed that he’s lost the power of speech. He’s especially afraid of the open sky, so – in desperation – his mother sends him to the city, where he’s taken under the wings of his vivacious younger cousin, Rigmor (Ester Birch), and her friend, Eva (Ella Josephine Lund Nilsson). The children’s performances are heartbreaking: between them, they exude a horribly credible mix of youthful exuberance and awful anxiety, and it’s hard to deal with just how defenceless they are.
Lasse Frank Johannessen’s cinematography is as unrelenting as Bornedal’s script: although the landscapes and architecture are undoubtedly beautiful, nothing is sugar-coated here. The grimy underbelly is as visible as the polished exteriors; there is no attempt to hide the harsh realities.
Despite the violence and frantic manoeuvring, the film moves at a slow pace, giving us time to understand the characters, to care about them and their fates. Of course, this only serves to make the final climactic scenes all the more devastating. This is a powerful piece of cinema, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.