Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, died in 1961. But questions surrounding his tragic passing in a plane crash, and his sexuality, refuse to die down.
“We know who he is, but we don’t know that much about him,” says director Per Fly, now bringing “Hammarskjöld – Fight for Peace” to the International Film Festival Rotterdam. His journals “Markings,” published posthumously, provided a way in.
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“There he was, this powerful man, and yet his writings deal with loneliness and sacrifice. There was a fragile poet inside of a politician.”
With Beta Cinema on board, the film was produced by Patrick Ryborn for Unlimited Stories. Variety premieres the trailer here.
According to Fly, Hammarskjöld was also a man who couldn’t afford to love.
“Dag said: ‘I am not a homosexual.’ Of course he did – otherwise, he would go to jail. One time, he said he loved a woman who left. The more I studied him, the less I believed it. But it’s important to underline that it’s our perspective.”
His lead, “The Hobbit” and Sex Education” star Mikael Persbrandt, adds: “When you deal with such formidable figures, you have to look for some darkness. This way you can show a human being, not some robot trying to save the world. Whether it’s true or not, we don’t know. But we do have some clues.”
In the film – featuring Francis Chouler, Cian Barry, Colin Salmon, Sara Soulié, Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Thure Lindhardt – Hammarskjöld finds himself under tremendous pressure. Despite his efforts towards the decolonization of Africa, the Congo Crisis intensifies.
“He had some radical ideas, but when he died – whether it was an accident or not – activist politics ended in the U.N. He wanted to take action without the Security Council’s approval and arguably went too far, but he believed a better society was possible. I respect that,” says Fly.
“The whole truth about Dag is in his poems. His mother was very religious and so was he, and he talked about making this ‘big sacrifice.’ Why he wanted that, I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t want ordinary life or maybe he knew he wouldn’t have it.”
“Trying to end colonialism and apartheid in Africa was, back then, an obvious battle to fight for a man with a consciousness and a brain. Congo fitted him like a glove and he really thought he could win,” adds Persbrandt.
After the murder of Congo’s Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, many called for his resignation. Instead, he went to Africa and never came back, prompting numerous conspiracy theories.
“This last trip was crazy. There was zero chance of it leading to something good, but he insisted on it. It’s not my intention to say who’s guilty, but when you try to give people back their power, the capitalist machine will try to keep its money. I show what I think has happened,” notes Fly.
“It still happens. It’s enough to look at Ukraine,” underlines Persbrandt.
“He was smart, but he wasn’t always following the democratic order. Sartre said that to exist, you have to make choices. You can’t be friends with everybody and maybe he realized it, or maybe he didn’t give a shit. He was on a mission and the mission was to make the world a better place.”
Alienated, he would hide away in his apartment, accompanied only by his pet monkey.
“When I first heard about it, I thought it was so weird. ‘Come on, we can’t have a monkey in the film!’ But Mikael told me to put it back,” says Fly.
“Per asked me to come a week earlier to bond with a monkey and I went: ‘What the fuck?!’ But it was a good thing, because the monkey was shy and so was I,” laughs Persbrandt.
“As a young actor, I used to brag – rather stupidly – that I only live on stage or in front of the camera. Dag felt alive as the Secretary-General and when he went home, there was this black hole. I recognized it for sure.”
Hammarskjöld’s legacy, while complicated, is still an important one, they argue.
“God knows we need people like him, but they are not easy to find. Today, it’s all about career and money. Human beings are so stupid it’s terrifying,” observes Persbrandt, while Fly adds: “Today, he wouldn’t be a politician. He would be someone like Greta Thunberg, operating outside of the system. Our democracy is slow and dangerous now, which means it can easily break. We have to look for the likes of him elsewhere.”
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