A brooding biopic from Sweden, “The Last Sentence” is set during an eventful period in the life of Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt. Even so, the story told in the film ends up being so much less than the momentous history that surrounds it.
From 1933 through 1945, Sweden existed in a geographically hazardous spot between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Adolf Hitler led the aggressively fascist Germany. Joseph Stalin, another brutal dictator, ruled Russia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The tyrants were on the march during Segerstedt’s years as editor-in-chief of the Swedish newspaper Göteborgs Handels-och Sjöfartstidning. Segerstedt dared to speak truth to Hitler’s evil power.
“The Last Sentence,” helmed by Oscar-nominated Swedish director Jan Troell, opens with genuine 1930s newsreel footage of Hitler taking power. With the support of his publisher, the editor, deftly played by Danish actor Jesper Christensen (“Melancholia,” “Nymphomaniac: Volume 1”) continues his print campaign against the Nazis despite pressure from, for instance, Sweden’s prime minister.
“Dusk if falling all over the world,” the solemn Segerstedt tells a roomful of important men. “It’s a struggle of life and death ... For or against the eternal humanity of mankind.”
In the ominous scheme of things, the truth that Segerstedt writes clangs quixotically. The theologian-turned-journalist bravely speaks against Sweden’s neutrality during World War II. He is correct about the evil that is Nazism, but is Segerstedt also, as the prime minister and the Swedish king believe, a reckless scribe who endangers himself and his country’s safety and sovereignty? More could have been made of such questions in “The Last Sentence.”
As Segerstedt’s words continue to annoy Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, “The Last Sentence” turns mostly to the affair the editor is having with the wife of the newspaper’s publisher. Soap opera-ish melodrama takes precedence over big historical events. Segerstedt’s wife, Puste, played by Ulla Skoog, frets about the woman who occupies much of her husband’s time, the free-spirited Jewess, Maja Forssman, played by Pernilla August.
Cinematically, “The Last Sentence” is well-made, filmed in elegant black-and-white and convincing in its period look. Principal cast members Segerstedt and August practice their artistry and skill. Both of them have international film credits, including August’s work with George Lucas and Swedish master Ingmar Bergman. The care that cast and crew invest into “The Last Sentence,” however, doesn’t hide a surfacey, frustratingly slight story. It’s Bergman light.