Films: King of Devil's Island

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King of Devil's Island  {Kongen av bastøy}

King of Devil's Island
Kongen av bastøy

Norway, 2011, 116 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Biographical, Crime, Drama, Historical/Period
Program: Contemporary World Cinema
Language: Norwegian English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Marius Holst
Producer: Karin Julsrud
Screenwriter: Dennis Magnusson
Cinematographer: John Andreas Andersen
Principal Cast: Stellan Skarsgård

Based on real events, Marius Holst's tense, heartbreaking drama employs a cast of astonishingly talented young actors, most of them non-professionals, to tell the forgotten tale of a bloody 1915 reform-school uprising in Norway. Winner of the Amanda Award at the Norwegian equivalent of the Oscars, it lays bare the hypocrisy of a penal system that treated wayward teenagers as hardened criminals and crushed their hopes under the heel of cruelty.

We quickly see that the benignly named Bastøy Residential School, a gray pile of stones on a desolate island in a fjord, is a circle of hell. The work is harsh, the beatings constant, the scant food inedible. The “residents” of Bastøy's Barrack C no longer even have names: their corrupt “housefather” and the morally blind school governor (Norwegian stalwart Stellan Skarsgård) simply shout orders at “C-3” or “C-5.”

When the guards’ violence and sexual abuse result in an inmate's suicide (and an official cover-up), the two strongest boys in the barrack lead a revolt. C-19, a newcomer whose real name is Erling Kaspersen (the extraordinary Benjamin Helstad), is an illiterate former whaling-boat crewman with a keen sense of justice; C-1, Olav Fossen (Trond Nillsen), is the quiet dorm headboy who can take no more. They feel like McMurphy and Cool Hand Luke in tandem—and when the Navy comes ashore in a stowstorm to quell the break, Holst's young rebels, too, are vastly outnumbered.

Grim, emotional, and beautifully acted, here's a prison movie for the ages.

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