Sundance 2019: Mads Brügger's Profound 'Cold Case Hammarskjöld'
by Alex Billington
January 31, 2019
There are always a few documentaries every year that deserve to be categorized under the "holy shit" section of cinema. This is one of them. Cold Case Hammarskjöld is the latest compelling documentary feature made by Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger, follow his other provocative films Kim Jong-Il's Comedy Club and The Ambassador. This time he stumbles upon something incredible, something profound and horrible, something scary and unbelievable. Yet it is believable - as seen in this film. It's easy to brush off everything as a conspiracy theory, but I'd rather believe that it's more convenient to ignore the truth than to accept that this kind of trickery and manipulation is really, truly real. But that's the discussion you will be having after seeing the film - a two hour investigation into what happened to UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.
Brügger's film starts out as a fascinating investigation into the (unsolved) death of Dag Hammarskjöld, who was killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1961 while on his way to peace talks with an embattled African nation. Not much actual investigation has occurred, and so Brügger starts at the beginning, spending years looking at everything - all the loose ends, all the unanswered questions. He interviews witnesses who were never interviewed by the police, he examines documents and photographs, and digs up everything he can find. Then he starts pulling at the theory that Dag was murdered (or rather: assassinated) because he was disrupting the white man's colonization (and corporatization) of Africa. This leads him to uncover a secret, shadowy, militia-run organization that has been manipulating powers and toppling countries for decades.
That's not all. He uncovers something else that could/should change everything we know about this world - if true. I won't get into that discussion (until you've all seen the film) but I will say, it's convincing. It makes sense. And it's freaky as fuck. The odd thing about this documentary is that Mads himself is in it, not only as the filmmaker narrating his experiences (much like Michael Moore), but also a character. He's a funny guy, a goofball almost, and there's a few laugh-out-loud scenes that seem a bit awkward considering how much horror he uncovers during his investigation shown in this film. That said, this is perhaps necessary because he is nonetheless a filmmaker and this allows him to make a film that is fascinating and entertaining, one that is engaging and upsetting. This may be off-putting for some viewers, but this only pulled me in deeper.
There is a point where all of this hits him hard and he realizes he's stumbled upon something much bigger (and worrisome) than he expected. And that's when the tone of the documentary changes, when he admits this isn't the fanciful, fun film he thought he was making. Of course, this also may give some conspiracy deniers the chance to pick apart his film and question the authenticity of it. Upon my initial viewing, Mads seems to be invested in making a film that stands out as an engrossing documentary, which is why he's in it so much and tosses in filmmaking conceits that add layers to the storytelling - but not the investigation. But he also seems very seriously invested, at least by a certain point in the story, in figuring out the truth and presenting us with his discoveries. And the narration walks us through his thoughts as he deals with all this.
More than anything, I encourage everyone to go watch this documentary and see everything for yourself. Do you believe it? Is there something missing? What do you make of all the discoveries? Can this really be true? Maybe it is, and that is frightening. On top of it all, Brügger is only scratching the surface. He doesn't solve the crime, it isn't case closed. And he doesn't get further into the big reveal than only mentioning it a few times, because (as he stated at the Q&A) that's an entirely different topic and different film that warrants its own massive investigation. Whatever the case, Brügger has dug up something incredible here, and may just be introducing the world (through a great documentary) to a very freaky SPECTRE-like white supremacist organization that actually exists in the real world. It's up to us to figure out what we do with this knowledge.
Alex's Sundance 2019 Rating: 9 out of 10
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