NINE LIVES (Arne Skouen, 1957)

A “true” adventure recounting Norwegian Jan Baalsrud’s escape from German captors during World War II, Arne Skouen’s Ni Liv is beautifully framed by shots in a Swedish hospital corridor. The opening one shows Baalsrud’s assisted entry following an almost unimaginable ordeal during which he nearly froze to death. The closing shot shows Baalsrud, assisted by flanking hospital staff, attempting to walk down the corridor, away from the camera. The camera pulls back as, up ahead, Baalsrud pulls away from those helping him and takes two or three steps on his own. How I wish the flashback that comprises most of the film was at the same expressive level as this conclusive shot.
     Unfortunately, however, this is, overall, a tedious, overwrought melodrama, despite a fine passage or two and a smattering of real jolts to the heart. The black-and-white film, which is generally primitive in appearance, is made especially ridiculous by its intermittently eruptive score by Gunnar Sønstevold.
     Much of the action finds Baalsrud dodging German bullets and surviving blizzard conditions amidst Norway’s snow-covered mountains en route to neutral Sweden. A fine passage dramatizes his hallucinations as stress and cold tempt his slippage into insanity. A couple of expressionistic flurries cannot overturn, though, the prosaic and literal nature of most of this film.
     Twenty-one years ago, Norwegian television conducted a poll to determine what homegrown film viewers considered the best one ever made. Ni liv garnered the most votes. It is still the case, apparently, that many Norwegians are fanatical about this film. One wonders what such people think of Ibsen and Hamsun—if, indeed, they think about such giants at all.

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