Steven Spielberg once said of Schindler’s List that he was telling a story of the Holocaust, not the story. “There are millions of stories of the Shoah. Six million of them we’ll never hear.” In this heartfelt, restrained movie, Norwegian film-maker Eirik Svensson dramatises the true story of one family of victims from Nazi-occupied Norway. In November 1942, large numbers of Norwegian Jews were rounded up in the middle of the night and taken to a dock in Oslo; 529 were loaded on to a German cargo ship, the SS Donau, and deported to Auschwitz.
Jakob Oftebro plays Charles Braude, a good-natured and thoroughly decent young boxing champion who lives in Oslo with his parents and grown-up siblings, all six of them crammed into a two-bedroom apartment. The film begins at the very start of the war, taking great care to paint the Braudes as a close-knit, happy family; it is a little idealised perhaps, but knowing what is to come, incredibly emotional.
The Braudes don’t believe the war can touch them in neutral Norway. Then the Germans invade; Charles is arrested and sent to an internment camp with his father and brothers. A Norwegian soldier in the camp, a man with a toad-like smile who makes a big show of being one of the good guys, challenges him to a boxing match, putting Charles in a terrible dilemma – it’s impossible to say no, but to survive he cannot draw attention to himself. The title is an accusation against Norwegians who collaborated with the Nazis; and Betrayed is also at pains to show how some ordinary Norwegians were indifferent to the fate of their Jewish neighbours.
It’s a film of desperately upsetting details. Near the end, after the Donau has set sail, large bins full of ID cards stamped with a red “J” are left behind at the dock – no longer needed. And yet there is nothing here that’s too disturbing, no humiliation that’s unwatchably harrowing. It left me wondering what room there is for understatement in a film about the Holocaust, or whether at some point restraint diminishes the true horror.
• Betrayed is released on 10 May on digital platforms.