A leading Swedish newspaper editor who staunchly opposed Hitler’s fascism and his own nation’s neutrality during WWII is the subject of Jan Troell’s “The Last Sentence.” This biographical drama, shot in crisp black-and-white, offers a potentially intriguing study in high-minded political/moral obstinacy, but feels too claustrophobic — and, finally, tediously like a one-man window on great events — to fully come to dramatic life. Lacking the greater emotional breadth and accessibility of the esteemed helmer’s last feature, “Everlasting Moments,” this dry Swedish history lesson will have a harder time finding offshore takers.
A theological scholar turned editor-in-chief of Gothenburg’s liberal Handels-och Sjofartstidning daily, Torgny Segerstedt (played with vinegary authority by Jesper Christensen) used that nearly 30-year podium from the early 1930s until his death in 1945 to rail against the National Socialist menace to the south. That highly public stance made him a controversial figure, particularly as the government offered increasingly troublesome compromises to maintain Sweden’s neutral status — even after Scandinavian sister nations were overrun by Axis forces.
Segerstedt’s brave, sometimes heedless rhetoric brought death threats at home and put him at the top of the Nazis’ hitlist for postwar reprisal. But the larger events that background “The Last Sentence” are relegated in visual terms to brief archival newsreel clips, and auds are not afforded any direct exposure to the Swedish public that Segerstedt’s vehement sentiments roiled. Instead, the pic stays almost entirely shut up in the rooms where Segerstedt interacted with peers or lived a somewhat messy personal life that gets far too much attention here.
Indeed, politics often takes a backseat to the rather one-note romantic quadrangle that saw Segerstedt involved none-too-secretly with Maja (Pernilla August), the Jewish wife of his publisher, Axel Forssman (Bjorn Granath), to the considerable grief of Forssman, as well as Segerstedt’s Norwegian spouse, Puste (Ulla Skoog), and their children. The middle-aged lovers are depicted as ambitious, arrogant, self-absorbed and insensitive toward easily bruised lesser mortals, like soulmates in an Ayn Rand novel, albeit homelier and politically further to the left.
These indeed may be the sort of people who shape much of the world, then and now, but they’re not terribly appealing company. Glimpses of warmer humanity provided by Maria Heiskanen’s loyal Finnish housekeeper are helpful, as is a brief episode of caustic humor when Segerstedt endures an unpleasant audience with King Gustave V (Jan Tiselius), painted as a pompous twit who never strays from using the royal “we.”
Much of the film is airless and eventually quite tedious, but would have been even more so without the sheen of Troell and Mischa Gavrjusjov’s monochrome lensing, shown off to best effect during the few larger-scale setpieces and outdoor scenes. Thesping is impeccable within the limits of a script whose characterizations never evolve much from their starting points. Tech/design contributions are pro; soundtrack is dominated by classical excerpts.