In his classic Mads Brügger-film style, the Danish director seeks to find out who stood behind the plane crash that killed the UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961.

Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller
Previous founder/editor of the DOX magazine.
Published date: March 12, 2019

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Mads Brügger

Peter Engel

Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, 2019. 2h 8min

Goddamn, now I know there is an organisation in South Africa called SAIMR, South African Institute for Maritime Research. A secret lodge, which, according to Cold Case Hammarskjöld, was involved in the killing of Swedish UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, who died on his way to Congo in an airplane that crashed under mysterious circumstances. This is a film about how and why Hammarskjöld died – the man who wanted to put an end to colonialism and was met with much resistance by the white elite in South Africa.

This is a film about how and why Hammarskjöld died.

Mads Brügger has made a film about all this together with Göran Björkdahl, who has dedicated most of his adult life to investigating the Hammarskjöld case. It has almost become an obsession. Brügger cooperated with Björkdahl for six years mixing classic journalistic style with his own classic Mads Brügger-film style in which he is part of the film, playing the role of the «white man», wearing his pith helmet; who wants to excavate the remains of the airplane, but who is stopped; who lights up a cigar with shaking hands and is asked by Björkdahl why his hands are shaking, saying: «You’re usually the cool guy».

Cold Case Hammarskjöld. Director: Mads Brügger

Björkdahl is right about that: as Brügger stages himself dressed in white as a member of SAIMR – dictating the manuscript of the film first to one, then to another of the black secretaries, who’s at the same time reacting to the information that black people are receiving injections containing AIDS. «Gruesome», one secretary says, and she’s right. It’s impressive and shattering what information and testimonies Brügger and Björkdahl manage to dig up through meetings with people brave enough to come forward.

Revealing diary

The movie has prompted long articles in The Observer and elsewhere, presenting the investigations and the principal characters. As the reviews have highlighted, the contents of the film are a sensation: The deceased SAIMR «commodore» Keith Maxwell’s revealing diary as well as the interviewed Geoffrey Jones, who according to the end credits now lives in hiding somewhere because of the information he has provided. He goes as far as to retort CIA, when he is asked who might have been behind the murder of the handsome and orderly Hammarskjöld, whose name has now been given to an elegant street in Copenhagen, which is home to the American embassy.

The movie has prompted long articles in The Observer and elsewhere.

Cinematically Brügger is here at his most brilliant. He mixes the mise-en-scène with his own doubts when he realises that he’s about to unearth something from the dark oblivion of history. He goes from playing the main character in yet another absurd story to taking the pith helmet off his head and giving the audience a well-wrought thriller with many humorous elements, but, even more, an opportunity to shake our heads over the ghastly white face of colonialism. Goddamn!

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