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Was Dag Hammarskjöld gay?

Regissør: Per Fly
( Danmark)

Films / Hammarskjöld's humour, drama, warmth, actionism, anger, irony, meetings with the press and youth, his spiritual and soulful musings form endlessly rich and fascinating possibilities that director Per Fly only exceptionally touches on in this new film.


Do you think the headline seems pathetically sensational? Then there are two of us. After all, we are writing in 2024, and film director Per Fly is using homosexuality as a honey pot for cinema audiences. The battle for sexual liberation is no longer over.

Planes, which must necessarily limit the range of themes from the rich life to FNs second secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld, Sweden's indisputably historically best-known Swede, chooses to use 20 percent of the film roll for long glances, ambiguous meetings and solitary pondering. An elderly audience member whispers: "What a shame he lived in the time when you couldn't be open about your orientation." But Fly fantasizes. And that's just nonsense.

Unhistorical distortion

Biography of Roger Lipsey Hammarskjöld – a life (2013) discuss this. Lipsey says that Hammarskjöld's lifelong friend Sverker Åstrøm, who came out of the closet well into the 80s, shared outdoor trips and joys with Hammarskjöld. They could hang from climbing ropes in dangerous mountains, read poetry for hours outside their tent by a river, or have parties in their New York apartment with their Swedish friends. He called the group The unicorns, and the "unicorn stable" apartment. Åstrøm had his 'gaydar' and said with a smile that Hammarskjöld was certainly not like him. Fly allows a small figurine of a unicorn to be a meaningful gift from a childhood friend.

The truth is that the unicorn was a gift from the bodyguard Bill, a humorous comment on the meetings in the "stable". A final undocumented letter from Hammarskjöld to his friend – which ends the film – lacks root in reality.

I dwell on this, not only because the film disappoints with such an unhistorical distortion and does not do the least to document it, but mostly because this has become so dominant for the film. It is the the old one in front of me is left with. It is sad.

Per Fly is tiringly trivial.

That Fly does not seek more among all the exciting things in the Swede's life is surprising. The Hammarskjöld quotes are predictable and never more than a Google search away. Danish reviewers also say that Per Fly is tiringly trivial.

Plane jumps over the bridge...

For whom var actually Hammarskjöld? Yes, a caring single person who read and wrote poetry. But a quietly brooding office worker with exceptional outbursts in the press and on the UN podium?

Hammarskjöld's humor, drama, warmth, actionism, anger, irony, meetings with the press and youth, his spiritual and soulful musings that form infinitely rich and fascinating possibilities that Fly only exceptionally touches; Hammarskjöld as photographer with the latest in Hasselblad cameras in flight above Himalayass mountains for National Geographic; his impressively advanced conversations with nuclear experts; his lack of respect (contempt?) for his predecessor, Norwegian Trygve Lie#; his commitment to the imprisoned poet Ezra Pound; his ridicule of all the 'experts' in Asian and African issues, and everything they "haven't seen" (speech to Lund's students in 1958); and his chairmanship of the board of the Swedish Riksbank; his role in Marshall aid. But also his rage that the Western countries were in the process of establishing their own rich man's club the OECD, to also ensure control over the growing aid funds.

They established their own development committee, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). "They want to take over the UN's work," he protested. DAC is today the world's aid hegemon, but ironically does not consist of a single recipient or Muslim country. Hammarskjöld went on: "You are going to make Africa a happy hunting ground." And how right he was!

Or why does Fly skip Hammarskjöld's close friendship with the sculptor Barbara hepworth, which, well-documented, gave him a miniature sculpture (a flame) that gained a permanent place on his desk. Would it interfere with Fly's directed characterization?

An indication that Hammarskjöld was an unusual politician, any researcher will quickly find out with the four large volumes he left behind in the UN library. The norm for the general secretaries is 'only' one volume. Hammarskjöld almost never used voice recorders. He wrote himself. He was fluent in languages ​​and controlled his translators carefully. Then he often had to make do with just three hours of sleep.

The bullet hole in Hammarskjöld's forehead

But there is no doubt that Fly has made an exciting film. With a confident Mikael Persbrandt as Hammarskjöld. Strong civil war scenes from Congo in the sixties, cinematic time shifts and dramatic scene choices propel us forward. We know how it ends, but are still carried away. Danske Fly is not as free-playing as his compatriot Mads Brügger Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019)

There is no doubt that Fly has made an exciting film.

But Fly's apt period color from the sixties New York promises a historicity that the script does not deliver on. And he facilitates the murder of the Congolese prime minister Lumumba – to an execution at a freshly dug grave. The truth was more dramatic: Lumumba was grotesquely reduced to nothingness in a barrel of acid so that no one would have a place to remember him as the icon of freedom that he was. [See also spring film article]

And Norwegian Bjorn Egge, who examined the fresh corpse of Hammarskjöld, found a bullet hole in his forehead – a sign of regular execution. Again more dramatic than Fly conveys. Research wasn't that important?

It is the privilege and destiny of fiction filmmakers to have to select, assemble and leave out fragments of reality. Per Fly, like Mads Brügger, chooses the sensational. Them about it. But we still have to wait for the Hammarskjöld film with a capital H.

John Y. Jones
John Y. Jones
Cand. Philol, freelance journalist affiliated with MODERN TIMES

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