Most great documentaries include a fair bit of luck on the part of the creator. Icarus would not be the award-winning phenomenon without the director randomly becoming the landlord of the highest ranked whistle-blower in Russian sport for instance. And so it is with Mads Brügger’s latest foray into the world of investigative journalism, Cold Case Hammarskjöld.
The titular Dag Hammarskjöld was secretary general of the United Nations from 1953 until his death in 1961. Following his crusade to provide support for newly independent African states and to protect them from continued occupation and colonial rule by Europe and the USA, he was killed in a plane crash on his way to meet the ruler of Katanga, Moise Tshombe. His death was always shrouded in mystery and conspiracy, as much of his work was seen by major corporations as a threat to their access to the abundant natural resources in the area.
Brügger pairs up with lifelong Hammarskjöld investigator Göran Björkdahl to reopen the case into the man’s death in an attempt to clarify the nature of the crash. The facts they find would make Oliver Stone’s hair curl, but the 50 or so years of time passed made verifying many details a seemingly impossible task.
Just as Brügger is hitting dead end after dead end, he comes across an enigmatic paramilitary group called the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), whose shady dealings come up regarding a few points in the Hammarskjöld case. What he then discovers through interviews with a couple of ex-members of the group throw the film down a totally different and far darker rabbit hole. What follows is a frankly mind-blowing set of findings which pull in MI6, the CIA and an international black operation which is as perplexing as it is reprehensible.
Brügger’s narrative is mainly from his own dictation of the film’s script to his secretaries, which might have worked against him had the revelations not been so far-reaching. Fluid editing makes Cold Case Hammarskjöld less of a documentary and more of a fictional political thriller, with the constant evidences lopping back on themselves to create a vastly complex web of devious events.
The problem with many of these documentaries of course, and Hammarskjöld is no exception, is there is never any solid proof behind their findings. Witness’s reports are uncorroborated, government documents will either be behind uncompromising red tape or destroyed, mercenary paramilitary groups are hardly an easy nut to crack, while governments hide behind them to protect themselves from exposure and repercussions. Brügger could have easily made this whole thing up, so you must buy into what is being shown.
If you do allow yourself to believe what Brügger finds is all above board, Cold Case Hammarskjöld will be one of the most enjoyable and utterly scandalous examples of political investigative journalism you have witnessed in years.
Dir: Mads Brügger
Cast: Mads Brügger, Göran Björkdahl
Prd: Andreas Rocksén
DOP: Tore Vollan
Music: John Erik Kaada
Run Time: 128 minutes