“Betrayed” doesn’t depict anything that hasn’t been seen many times before, but that’s less a knock on its lack of originality than a sad reflection of the fact that millions suffered similar hardships, tragedies and horrors during the Holocaust. Based on a true story, Eirik Svensson’s WWII saga focuses on the Braude family, who along with hundreds of fellow Norwegian Jews were rounded up and sent to work camps or, via the SS Donau cargo ship on Nov. 26, 1942, to Auschwitz, from which they never returned. Handsomely mounted and deftly dramatized, it’s an agonized study of suffering and treachery, and no less valuable — or powerful — for being regrettably familiar.
Svensson opens “Betrayed” with Nazi collaborator Knut Rød (Anders Danielsen Lie) tranquilly dispensing orders to his men to detain the remaining Jews left in Oslo. It’s a small, quiet vision of the bureaucratic work upon which fascist genocide is built, and it casts a mournful pall over the ensuing action, which flashes back three years to pick up with the Brauns. Theirs is a family of devout Jews save, to some extent, for Charles (Jakob Oftebro), an up-and-coming boxer who loves his clan and its traditions and yet blames his heritage for his problems. Consequently, he has no problem marrying a gentile, Ragnhild (Kristine Kujath Thorp). While such a move seems designed to rub his mother Sara (Pia Halvorsen) the wrong way, it turns out that Ragnhild is warmly welcomed into the household, which also includes Charles’ father Benzel (Michalis Koutsogiannakis) and brothers Harry (Carl Martin Eggesbø) and Isak (Eilif Hartwig).
Though Benzel is initially confident that the dawning war won’t reach Norway’s shores, he’s soon proven wrong, with the Nazis gradually and methodically moving in and taking over. During this period, Svensson maintains tight focus on the Brauns, and especially Charles, whose disgust for these interlopers is most hauntingly captured in a scene in which he and his siblings deliver food supplies to a local gathering of Norwegian Nazi recruits and, after Harry struggles to push his way past these budding stormtroopers, he angrily keys one of their cars. A pugilist by nature (and training), Charles imagines himself in control of his own destiny. Thus, it comes as a shock to him when — on a morning spent discussing the possibility of children with Ragnhild — he’s arrested alongside Benzel, Harry and Isak and promptly sent off to Berg Internment Camp outside Tønsberg.
There, indignities become commonplace, exacerbated by Charles’ refusal to listen to his father and give in to a nasty commander’s request for a sparring bout. Charles is the embodiment of Jewish strength rendered powerless by Hitler’s National Socialist machine, and Oftebro (who more than slightly resembles Joseph Gordon-Levitt) evokes his character’s frustration and rage at this degradation with a nimbleness that extends to the rest of the impressive cast. Histrionics are wholly absent in “Betrayed,” as are unnecessary aesthetic flourishes. Embellished by Johan Söderqvist’s reserved orchestral score, Svensson and cinematographer Karl Erik Brøndbo’s visuals are straightforward and precise, their compositions evocative without being unduly showy. They lend the proceedings the sobering realism and desolation they deserve.
Ultimately, Sara also becomes a target of the Nazis, leading to a finale whose consuming silence conveys a sense of heartbreaking finality. It’s the Brauns’ unjust fate that serves as the emotional centerpiece of “Betrayed,” although per his film’s title, Svensson makes sure — in the character of Rød, and via the offhand remarks of various everyday Norwegian traitors — to roundly condemn those countrymen who forever damned themselves by swearing allegiance to the Führer.