13 months
Regissør: Niels Arden Oplev og Anders W. Berthelsen
(Danmark, Norge, Sverige)

DANISH IS PRISONER / The feature film about Danish Daniel Rye captured by IS in Syria shows that Scandinavian film does not have to be toothless entertainment to hit wide.


From Lars von Trier and his allies launched the Dogme Manifesto back in the nineties, Danish filmmakers have shown a willingness to innovate and often also madness that one can slowly miss in our domestic film production. But Danish film is to a great extent characterized by an ability to tell solid human dramas, where dramaturgical precision is combined with credible environmental and personal portrayals.

Several of these films have also dealt with political and other relevant themes from Danish social life, rather than concentrating only on interpersonal relationships. A few examples from the last decade – all shown in Norwegian cinemas – are Susanne Biers In a better world (2010), Thomas Vinterberg's Jakten (2012), Tobias Lindholm's
The hijacking (2012) and War (2015), Isabella Eklöfs Holiday (2018), May el-Toukhys The queen (2019) and Ulaa Salims Sons of Denmark (2019)

Photographer in Syria

13 months also belongs in this series. The feature film is based on Puk Damsgård's documentary novel Do you see the moon, Daniel? (which is also the film's original title) and is about the Danish photographer Daniel Rye, who spent 398 days as an IS prisoner in 2013 and 2014.

The film first describes him as a young gymnast who does not know what to do in life after a leg break puts an end to sports activity, until he begins as an apprentice with a photographer who takes him on a reporting job in Mogadishu.

If one is to say that they are treated as animals, then it must aim at the grossest form of abuse to which humans are subjected to other species.

At the age of 24, Rye decides to travel alone as a photographer to Syria, to document how ordinary people feel during the civil war that has seriously begun to characterize the country. Although the plan is to stay on the border with Turkey and go back there every night to spend the night, he is kidnapped by representatives of the later far-known organization IS and held captive in their prison in Raqqa.

Abuse and torture

Many people already know that he eventually came back to Denmark, which the movie's title also indicates. Nevertheless, it is at times intensely unpleasant to see the portrayal of the captivity and the inhuman treatment Rye and the other hostages receive from their guardians. If one is to say that they are treated as animals, then it must aim at the grossest form of abuse to which humans are subjected to other species.

13 months Director Niels Arden Ople Anders W. Berthelsen Denmark, Norway, Sweden

Eventually, American journalist James Foley – who is in an even more vulnerable position due to his nationality – becomes one of Ry's co-prisoners. 13 months also tells Foley's story, and does so in a gripping and respectful way. And not least, the film underscores the enormous risk some journalists take to convey what's going on in war-torn countries. As is well known, Foley was to be the first US hostage killed by IS in a video-filmed execution.

Loose Money

In parallel, the film follows Rye's desperate family back home in Denmark, trying to raise the ransom the kidnappers demand. The country's authorities have a presumably unwavering principle of not paying or negotiating ransom in these types of cases, like Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is an understandable point of view, all the while it can lead to more kidnappings of nationals – and that there will be (albeit reluctant) funding of terrorist organizations.

Thus, Rye's parents and siblings are desperate to raise money from other sources and must consider the need to reach out to the message of potential contributors against the danger that media attention could cause Rye to be executed.

The film does not take lightly the dilemmas surrounding such hostage situations.

In other words, the film does not readily address the dilemmas surrounding such hostage situations, although it makes us almost inevitable to cheer on the family's fundraising campaign. A scene that leads to a redemption in this way is supposed to be fictitious, but is just as good a good example of the skilled script craftsmanship of Anders Thomas Jensen (who also wrote the script for the aforementioned In a better world).

The director is at Niels Arden Oplev, who has worked extensively in the United States after directing the Millennium filming Men who hate women (2009). Actor Anders W. Berthelsen is credited as co-director, as well as playing a key role in the film as the family's hired hostage dealer. In an interview with the Danish film magazine Ekko, the two have stated that they strive for an "emotional realism" – a recreation of the protagonists' feelings – rather than exact reproductions of all actual events. It is difficult to say exactly how extensive artistic freedoms they have taken, but the essence does not seem to be too far from reality. The result is at least a moving and engaging feature film.

13 months Directors Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen Denmark, Norway, Sweden

audience Success

13 months is supported by the Danish Film Institute's market organization, which is aimed at films with a high anticipated audience visit. Admittedly, the literary submission had already been a so-called bestseller, but it is still worth noting that such a tearing story is financed through a commercially oriented support scheme. The film also became an audience success, with almost half a million cinema visitors in Denmark. It undeniably says that Scandinavian film does not have to be toothless entertainment to hit broadly.

It is easy for us to sympathize with a young and partly naive Danish who ends up in a far more terrible situation than he could possibly imagine. That is why it is extremely powerful to read the film's closing quote from Daniel Rye himself, where he emphasizes that there are still many people coming to Denmark on the run from Syria who have experienced far worse things than he did.

13 months going to the cinema

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