A couple of days have passed since I caught Mads Brugger‘s Cold Case Hammarskjöld, and the more I think about it, the more impressive and arresting it seems. It’s actually one of the most original-feeling investigative docs I’ve ever seen.
It begins as an investigation into the 1961 plane-crash death of UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld, which happened, we gradually learn, at the hands of colonialist bad guys. The film is about how Brugger, who casts himself as a kind of whimsical, not-quite-Hercule-Poirot-level investigator, and colleague Goran Bjorkdahl gradually uncover what happened, not just to Hammerskjold 58 years ago but also…actually, I’d rather not divulge.
Suffice that Brugger comes to believe (and in fact persuades) that Hammarskjöld’s plane was shot down by Belgian-British mercenary pilot Jan van Risseghem, who was apparently doing the bidding of some ghastly ogres who were angered by Hammarskjöld’s sympathy for African nativist independence movements.
But that’s hardly the end of it.
For Cold Case Hammarskjöld is anything but a straightforward, hard-hitting, get-to-the-truth doc. In fact it represents a kind of sideways shuffle approach to discovering long-buried bones and nightmares. It is, in fact, an eccentric film, and yet the things it discovers are beyond ugly.
It’s the mixture of curious whimsy and malevolent apartheid schemings (practiced decades ago by rightwing fanatics) that gives Cold Case Hammarskjöld a tone of spooky weirdness.
I haven’t time to write a longish review (a 3:30 pm screening of Luce is bearing down upon me) but Cold Case Hammarskjold is quite a stand-alone achievement. I intend to see it again at the first opportunity.
For bit by bit, testimony by testimony, Cold Case Hammarskjold uncovers a demimonde of racist, colonial evil that feels stranger and wilder than any work of espionage fiction. In part because the doc uses a mixture of evidence, memory, facts, personality, deadpan humor and conjecture to uncover what actually (or most probably) happened.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld director-writer-star Mads Brugger (l.) and investigative colleague Goran Bjorkdahl (r.).