Review: We Shall Overcome-Drommen (2006)

We Shall Overcome-Drommen (2006)

Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev | 105 minutes | drama, family | Actors: Bent Mejding, Anders W. Berthelsen, Jens Jørn Spottag, Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis, Peter Hesse Overgaard, Sarah Juel Werner, Janus Dissing Rathke, Elin Reimer, Gyrd Løfqvist, Lasse Borg, Daniel Ørum, Kurt Ravn, Steen Stig Lommer Joy-Maria Frederiksen, Tina Gylling Mortensen, Stig Hoffmeyer, Birgit Conradi, Lise Stegger, Nis Bank-Mikkelsen, Katrine Jensenius, Helle Merete Sørensen, Sandra . Pedersen

“We shall overcome… We shall overcome… We shall overcome some day… Oh, deep in my heart… I do believe: We shall overcome some day…” This excerpt is taken from the famous protest song ‘We Shall Overcome’, which the Afro Americans sang in the context of their emancipation and the fight for equality between white and black in the United States. On August 20, 1963, during a peaceful mass demonstration at the Lincoln Monument in Washington, in front of a crowd of more than 200,000 people, Mahalia Jackson sang this famous gospel song. In doing so, she certainly made a major contribution to the struggle for the emancipation of African Americans, hand in hand with such greats as Rev. Martin Luther King, a member of the same Mennonite Baptist church of which she was a member.

In the Danish family film ‘We Shall Overcome’ (original title ‘Drømmen’, which means ‘dream’, after King’s famous saying ‘I have a dream’) a thirteen-year-old country boy Frits (Janus Dissing Rathke) is so inspired in 1969 by the ideas of the recently murdered Martin Luther King – whom he sees on the recently acquired television – that he decides to change his name to Martin. And he desperately needs King’s ideas in his own personal and nonviolent fight against Mr. Lundum-Svenson (Bent Mejding, known for ‘Brothers’), the tyrannical headmaster of the school. He mistreats the students and imposes his will on them. After Frits is caught peeping in the girl’s changing room, he is roughly dealt with by Lundum-Svenson. He gives him such a heavy twist on his ears that it has to be re-attached to his head. Frits does not give up and takes action against the headmaster.

However, that is more difficult than expected. The only adults to side with Frits are the young, hippie-like music substitute, Mr. ‘Call me Freddie’ Svale (Anders W. Berthelsen), and his parents. But Svale has to befriend Lundum-Svenson because he wants to get a permanent position at the school and Frits’ mother Stine (Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis, known from ‘The Idiots’) also works at the school, as the nurse. In addition, his father Peder (Jens Jorn Spottag) was only recently discharged from the hospital’s psychiatric clinic after suffering severe depression. The students do not dare to stand behind Frits for fear of the corporal punishment of Lundum-Svenson. And he is known to most parents as a staunch champion of conservative values ​​and has a lot of credit. If Frits wants to be proved right, he will have to do everything in his power and the inspiring example of Martin Luther King helps him on his way.

Director Niels Arden Oplev, who is also responsible for the script together with Steen Bille, used facts from his own childhood as the basis for the story. In doing so, he creates a high-quality family film that will be appreciated by viewers of all ages. The film is significantly less nihilistic and violent than his earlier work (‘Chop Chop’ and ‘Portland’), but still quite daring for a youth film. Nevertheless, the film remains suitable for a mainstream (family) audience. ‘We Shall Overcome’ can be placed in the European tradition of films with and about children who are not afraid to experience the less pleasant sides of growing up. Think for example of ‘My Life as a Dog’ by Lasse Hallström and more recently ‘Les Choristes’ by Christophe Barratier.

With the latter film ‘We Shall Overcome’ has even more similarities: there is the link with the evil headmaster and in both films music plays an important role. The transition that characterized the turbulent period at the end of the sixties is portrayed in ‘We Shall Overcome’ in the two teachers. The stern and strict headmaster Lundum Svenson represents the conservative and the past; the young, fresh Freddie Svale personifies the progressive and the future. This is also reflected in the music lessons he gives the children (classical and traditional songs versus flower power). ‘We Shall Overcome’ is certainly not unique in terms of theme, but thanks to the strong acting (especially from the disarming Janus Dissing Rathke in the lead role), fresh camera work and a good dose of wonderful humor, Oplev’s film is well worth a look.

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