Max Manus comes to the United States

The biographic war film about Norwegian Resistance fighter Max Manus makes its American debut in New York

Compiled by Christy Olsen Field
Norwegian American Weekly

Gunnar Sønsteby (played by Knut Joner), Kolbein Lauring (Christian Rubeck) and Max Manus (Aksel Hennie) in a scene on Karl Johansgate during the filming of Max Manus. Photo: Filmkameratene

“I think it’s great that ‘Max Manus’ is now being shown in the United States. I’m very excited,” said Gunnar “Kjakan” Sønsteby. The 91-year-old came with his wife Anne-Karin to New York for a private showing of “Max Manus.”

“Max Manus” (2008) is a biographic war film based on the real events of the life of Norwegian resistance fighter Max Manus (1914-1996). After fighting as a volunteer for Finland in the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939, he was one of the pioneers in the Norwegian resistance movement, and was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941. He escaped to England for training and went back as a saboteur for the Norwegian Independent Company 1, better known as Lingekompaniet. He became a specialist in ship sabotage and sank ships that were important to the German Kreigsmarine. He is famous for being one of the most brilliant saboteurs during World War II, and was awarded Norway’s highest decoration for military gallantry, Krigskorset med sverd (War Cross with sword).

Producer John M. Jacobsen is enthusiastic that the film will be well-received in the United States.

Max Manus (played by Aksel Hennie). Photo: Absentofi.org

Max Manus (played by Aksel Hennie). Photo: Absentofi.org

“I think that is exciting to come here and show the film, and I think it will be well-received,” said Jacobsen to NTB.

The film’s budget was an estimated NOK 50 million, making it the most expensive of all Norwegian film productions before 2009. The production included around 1,800 extras, and 2,000 workers behind the cameras.

The private showing in New York is by invitation only for Norwegian diplomats, representatives for American film festivals and distributors, and American journalists, and another public showing will take place at Hartford University in Connecticut.

Jacobsen said that he is unsure how the film will be received by the American public, and hopes the results of the two showings will illustrate how the broader American audience might react.

Gunnar Sønsteby thinks “Max Manus” is an outstanding film, and it is important that the film is seen in the United States.

In New York, the film is sponsored by Andrew Whist, a friend of Gunnar Sønsteby who has brought together the Scandinavian community in New York.  The initiative to show the film to students in Hartford, Conn. is the work of Norwegian American author Irene Levin Berman, who came out with the dramatic family story “Flukten fra Holocaust” last fall.

“It’s great that the enthusiasm about the film is more than the traditional community. I have not seen anything like this before. I am very flattered, and think that this is fun to present the film,” said Jacobsen.

Gestapo chief Siegfried Fehmer (Ken Duken) dances with Solveig Johnsrud, played by Viktoria Winge, in Max Manus. Photo: Erik Aavatsmark, Filmkameratene AS

Gestapo chief Siegfried Fehmer (Ken Duken) dances with Solveig Johnsrud, played by Viktoria Winge, in "Max Manus". Photo: Erik Aavatsmark, Filmkameratene AS

“I believe the chances that ‘Max Manus’ will do well in the United States are really good. I hope it comes here,” said Gary Springer of Springer Associates, who has been responsible for setting up the guest list for the New York showing.

Spring has been involved in Norwegian films for many years, and has worked with Liv Ullmann.

“Many of the film people I have spoken with who have seen the film already like it,” said Springer.

The Norwegian premiere of “Max Manus” was an elaborate event, attended by King Harald V, as well as Gunnar Sønsteby, one of the resistance fighters portrayed in the film. King Harald V, who himself is old enough to have experienced World War II, was allegedly moved to tears by the film. Both Sønsteby— the only remaining member of Manus’ group— and Max Manus’ widow, Tikken Manus, appreciated the authenticity of the film.

Reception from critics was largely positive, though some found the film to be too traditional, and compared it unfavorably to the recent Danish film “Flammen og Citronen.”

The film was seen by around 140,500 people on its opening weekend in Norway, a national record for a Norwegian film.  As of Feb. 2, 2009, over 1 million tickets had been sold for the film.

This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on March 6, 2009. For subscription information and to find out more, email us at naw@norway.com or call toll-free at (800) 305-0217.

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