I am confused. When I came across The Bombardment (2021), I thought, okay, an interesting military drama that I had yet to see. I even watched what Netflix hilariously refers to as a preview, which is really a clip from the movie taken out of context. Not completely out of context, though, as there was the brief description that, along with the video, aligned with my expectations. There were a few key phrases in the one sentence statement of its contents to which, in hindsight, I should have paid closer attention. They were “dark period drama” and “directed by Ole Bornedal.” Instead, I believed I was in for a story about a daring raid on a Gestapo building in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the events focused on the pilots. Between the clip and the thumbnail on Netflix, I feel like this was a reasonable assumption. What I got had the raid all right, but a whole lot of other Danish stuff that speaks more to that “dark” aspect of the description. Did I mention it is a Danish movie? Not that the nationality matters, I point this out only to state another piece of the puzzle for which I was unprepared. Finally, the movie also has a different title, The Shadow in My Eye. Why Netflix decided to call it The Bombardment I have not the slightest clue, but it is the name with which I will be working.
The opening crawl of The Bombardment would lead one to believe that this was going to be exactly as I thought it would be. It explains how late in World War II, the Danish resistance appealed to the British to send the Royal Air Force to bomb a building in Copenhagen known as “The Shell.” Despite the end of the war being weeks away, the Gestapo remained busy rounding up and killing all the members of the resistance they could find. The thinking was that by destroying this one building, it would put an end to their reign of terror, despite Danish prisoners being held in the attic and acting as a human shield. So far, so good. We then switch to a group of women in the Danish countryside preparing to go to a wedding. They get in a car together, and as they make their way down a country road, their car is strafed by a British Mosquito fight-bomber, killing all the occupants. This event is witnessed by a young boy named Henry (Bertram Bisgaard Enevoldsen), whose horror at seeing the gruesome scene strikes him dumb. Meanwhile, somewhere near Copenhagen, a young man named Frederik (Alex Høgh Andersen) is getting ready for work. Though he has friends in the resistance, and his father believes he is betraying his country, Frederik works with the occupying Germans as a member of their handpicked police. He is sympathetic to the resistance, but he seemingly needs a job. Things begin to change for him when one of his friends is arbitrarily murdered in the streets by Gestapo spies. One of the people who witness this attack is Eva (Ella Josephine Lund Nilsson). She is a young student at a nearby Catholic school run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. In the convent attached to the school is one Sister Teresa (Fanny Bornedal). I have a lot to say about this character, but I will save it for later. Suffice to say, she is having problems with her Faith when she learns about the murder of Jews in the recently revealed concentration camps. Soon to join Eva and Sister Teresa at the school is Henry. After consulting a doctor, his mother (Maria Rossing) feels it is best for Henry, who has developed a fear of open spaces in addition to not talking, to spend a month in Copenhagen with his aunt (Danica Curcic). While there, he attends school with his cousin Rigmor (Ester Birch), who is a classmate of Eva, hence the connection. Now that we have set up the principal characters, it is time for us to get back to the raison d’etre for the film, that being the planned bombing of The Shell. On the appointed day, several Royal Air Force Mosquitos take off from England and head for Copenhagen, including the one piloted by the crew that had accidentally strafed the wedding party. This also happens to be the day that Frederik has decided to quit collaborating with the Nazis, and is fleeing the country before he could be rounded up for reprisals as the war is coming to a close. I mention this because he is not on hand when the bombs fall on The Shell, though most of the prisoners being held in the attic are able to escape. When he hears the attack, though, he can tell, like a few of the others in the bomber wing, that something is amiss. A small group of the aircraft are dropping their payload on the wrong target, and hitting the aforementioned school. Because Eva had refused to eat her breakfast and was feeling hunger pangs, she had been dismissed from class before the destruction began, with Henry being sent to find her. As a result, they are not in the building when the bombs land. Those who are and can make it head for the basement to take shelter, including Sister Teresa and Rigmor. Unfortunately, one of the bombs collapses the structure, trapping them in a subterranean room that is filling with water. When Frederik makes his way to the building, he immediately pitches in with the recovery efforts. All the parents of the children rush to the scene as well, and Henry is pressed into service to help identify those being taken from the rubble. Doing so requires him to use his voice for the first time in weeks. Unfortunately, just as Frederik reaches Sister Teresa and Rigmor, the shattered bricks and concrete overhead shifts and buries them all alive, killing them. Thankfully, Eva’s mother (Malene Beltoft Olsen) finds her daughter at home eating the porridge she had earlier refused to eat.
What I had not been expecting with The Bombardment was all the Catholic imagery and themes. Some of it is a little innocuous, such as when Eva, Henry, and Rigmor take the biscuit they buy on the way to school, dip it is Holy Water three times to get rid of what they believe is poison inside the pastry, and present it to Jesus before eating it. If an adult were to do this, particularly one informed in the Faith, then it would be considered sacrilege. With children, a lesson can be handed on to them that, while it is good to expect miracles by doing such things, Holy Water fonts are designed for Baptisms and blessing ourselves when we enter and exit a church. In a sense, they are a daily opportunity to renew our own Baptisms. Using them to cleanse bread mars the sanctity of the vessel, but then again, what do little kids know?
Okay, I needed to make a break with the previous paragraph and crack my writing knuckles before continuing this review of The Bombardment. What do little kids know? Well, when it comes to matters of Faith, apparently not a lot from Sister Teresa. The first time we see her, she is self-flagellating. When the prioress (Susse Wold) points out that they are not Jesuits and it is no longer the sixteenth century (Jesuits stopped doing this a long time ago, too), asking what is possessing the young nun to do this, she claims that she is trying to find God. Explaining further, Sister Teresa wonders how God could let the Jews suffer so much, believing that He would never allow something like the Holocaust to happen. Hence, by whipping herself, she is waiting for God to come down and stop her. It gets worse. Already having trouble accepting God’s existence, she has an encounter on the street with Frederik. Knowing him to be a collaborator, she calls him a devil. She then proceeds to kiss him, commenting afterwards that she had not been struck dead by a bolt of lightning for doing so. Later on, Frederik, wanting to get away from the life he had been leading with the Nazis, comes to her and asks her to teach him to pray. In response, she takes him into the church and begins reciting the Hail Mary with him. Before you go thinking that maybe this has turned a corner, Frederik then attempts to rape Sister Teresa. She half struggles, half accepts it until she gets up, looks intently at the Crucifix, and touches the wound in Jesus’ side, drawing blood from it. She tells him it is a sign, but after they kiss once more as he leaves, we see that she has used her Rosary to prick her finger. As bad as this all sounds, the worst is when she is put in from of a classroom. When one of the children asks if God sleeps, and if so, does that explain why so many bad things in the world, she says that it is because sometimes God gets distracted. She likens it to God dropping a pencil. Since time is meaningless to God, with a year being like a second and vice versa (which is true), when God’s attention slips to something else for that undefined amount of time, a whole host of bad things can occur. She then doubles down on this absurd notion by mocking God, dropping a pencil to demonstrate her metaphor and derisively falling asleep. The film presents Sister Teresa as being a progressive thinker, and seems to look at the Church as basically being the problem. The Church is too rigid, and there is even the suggestion that it tacitly approves of the Holocaust. Anyone who agrees with this sentiment should go read about the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan Friar who went to the gas chamber in place of a Jew. As for her doubts about God, given the horrors of World War II, that is a little more understandable. There is no getting around the difficulties of understanding these events when all we are told is that God loves us and wants nothing but good for us. However, we understand these concepts not as God does, but as we do. It is useless trying to achieve ultimate knowledge of such events because that is not something we can ever have this side of the grave. I will credit Sister Teresa for her desire to protect Rigmor, going into the water just before the final collapse. However, she is wrong about God because she has a selfish desire to get to the heart of events on her own terms. More broadly, the movie presents Catholicism in the same way that most do, as being backwards in its thinking.
And again, all I wanted was a war movie, and with a name like The Bombardment I thought I was safe. Then again, had I seen its other title, The Shadow in My Eye, I probably would have not have seen it. Why could Netflix have not gone with that one? Still, I cannot be completely regretful as now I can warn you away from it.