Rotterdam 2024 Review: THE ARCTIC CONVOY Provides Chilling Suspense

Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken's war drama is very good and causes an unrelenting shredding of your nerves.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2024 Review: THE ARCTIC CONVOY Provides Chilling Suspense
The International Film Festival Rotterdam has many international premières for its audiences, one of which was Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken's war drama Konvoi a.k.a. The Arctic Convoy. Solidly researched and excellently executed, Dahlsbakken's film tells a story about the Norwegian ships which supplied the Russian army in World War II. As the East front turned ever more brutal and the battle of Stalingrad was mulching two armies to pulp, the Allied forces decided to help the Russians by sending gigantic convoys travelling from Iceland to the Northwest Russian harbour Murmansk. A typical convoy consisted of 35 freight ships, loaded with guns and ammunition, surrounded by an escort of warships. Whenever the convoys were near Nazi-occupied Norway, the seas got peppered with mines and the convoy would get attacked by submarines and planes, making the ships a hazardous place to be in.

IFFR2024-Konvoi-ext1.jpg In The Arctic Convoy we follow one of the ships in what turned out to be one of the most ill-fated of these delivery missions. These trips typically took twelve days to complete, and the film starts on "Day Four" when things start to get a bit hairy. The ship itself needs some repairs and the crew is stressed out from earlier missions. From the start, things do not go particularly well between captain Skar and his new First Mate Mørk. Mutual trust isn't there yet, as the men have different political views and Mørk is seen as bad luck since he was captain on another ship which was sunk.

Tensions rise when the ship gets the strangest message: the convoy is to disband, the escort will go away and all ships need to scatter as quickly as possible. What can this mean? Mørk wants to turn around and go back to Iceland, but captain Skar is adamant: suicide mission or not, the ship needs to continue to Murmansk. And all the time distress calls keep coming in, as around them the convoy's separated ships get picked off one by one...

In good hands, this scenario could play out as a suspenseful drama thriller. In bad hands, you'd get implausible action and melodrama. Thankfully, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken's hands turn out to be very good. This is not a gung-ho rah-rah-rah action flick with love interests, but instead a mature and subtle look at a group of people under extreme stress. The acting is great and there is interesting chemistry between Tobias Santelmann (Mørk) and Anders Baasmo (Skar), who worked together earlier in the 2012 film Kon-Tiki where they also both got stuck on a boat (albeit a VERY different one). The focus of the film is on their characters' different viewpoints, and the result that has on the crew.

That doesn't mean the film doesn't deliver on the action though. What's there is very good, but the exhilaration is in the survival, not in the heroism. A scene where the ship gets stuck between mines is an absolute nailbiter. Make this a double-bill with Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot for an interesting evening as the two films would make great companion pieces, showing two sides of the same conflict.

The audiences in Rotterdam loved it and awarded the film a whopping high rating of 4.6 out of 5. This film was my personal favourite this year and I much recommend watching it. Do yourself a favour and catch this in a cinema if you can.

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