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September 2010

Arn: The Knight Templar

cast: Joakim Nätterqvist, Sofia Helin, Stellan Skarsgård, Milind Soman, and Bibi Andersson

director: Peter Flinth

122 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
High Fliers DVD Region 2 retail
[released 20 September]

RATING: 4/10
review by Danny O'Connor

Arn: The Knight Templar

I wanted to give this movie a seven or eight rating as it stands up well in comparison to Ridley Scott's sometimes overblown The Kingdom Of God but as none of us are tri-lingual I have to, on the basis of this copy, give it a four. I checked and re-checked that I was getting the English version but I got what I took to be Swedish, 60 to 70 percent of the time, a smattering of Arabic and the rest in English. All the 'home' scenes and, therefore, all the key plot points and character motivations were in Swedish. As this was not a straightforward linear story I'm sure I missed more than mere nuances.

Having said that, focusing solely on the pictorial clues has its own advantages, for example, the scenes in the convent where: the two young noblewomen share the 'secrets amour' of Cecelia, and where the Mother Superior composes a salacious and vindictive expose to the bishop, the birth of the illegitimate child to Cecelia, and the child's removal from her moments later when Cecelia is forced to kiss the Mother Superior's ring - a ring which 'just happens' to bear the insignia of her worldly adversaries, and where Cecelia refuses to forgive the dying Mother Superior. All these scenes all graphically told and all the more potent for not knowing what words are spoken.

What else is good about this movie? The opening scene, where the Knights Templar bear down upon a group of Arab brigands who are pursuing three Arab travellers is good. Eric Kress' cinematography is consistently wonderful. The production design and the costume design are good. Peter Flinth's direction is crisp and functional and devoid of excess.

The plot bears the weight of trying to tell two contemporaneous stories, those of Arn in the Holy Land and his beloved Cecelia left behind and incarcerated in a convent. It also claims the veritas of historical truth. Not being a scholar of this era, I couldn't possibly comment. Choosing the opening scene of Arn saving the life of Saladin thus requires a certain amount of backstory to be interwoven amongst the two main threads combined with no English dubbing or subtitles for the Swedish or Arabic sections leads to a certain confusion of plot which the viewer has to overcome.

Arn: The Knight Templar (aka: Arn - Tempelriddaren) suffers from a similar weakness to Ridley Scott's movie in that neither convincingly plays out the dilemma of squaring the circle of two conflicting religions with both being 'right' in their own fashion. As some sort of sop, the director has, to my mind, given magnanimous victor Saladin the deliberate physical appearance of a classic portrait of Jesus complete with white flowing robe, shoulder-length hair, and a full trimmed beard.

A theme in the movie is the enmity between the "three gold crowns on a blue background flag" clan to which both Cecelia and Arn belong and the "black boar's head on a red pennant" clan to whom the Mother Superior and a varied assortment of 'heavies' belong. There is no smudging of sides here as there is between the portrayals of Arn's virtuous Christian knight and Saladin's equally virtuous Arab leader. The 'black boars' are the venal bullies who get their eventual comeuppance in the final battle whose "peace set up the eventual kingdom of Sweden".

A poignant scene is the one showing both Arn and Cecelia reconciled to each other after having served out their separate penances for their 'abomination'. It is redolent of 'good' being steadfast against the vagaries of misfortune and the animus of their foe. All the battle scenes are convincing and realistic in a full Boys Own adventure sort of way which is good enough for this viewer. This is definitely worthwhile if you can get a full and proper English version.



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