The Birdcatcher tells about a Jewish girl named Esther (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina) who lived in Trondheim, Norway in 1942. She lost her family and managed to survive by working at a farm disguised as a boy before making her way to Sweden. There are spoilers ahead.
The Birdcatcher doesn’t say that it’s based on a true story, but the film opens on a statue of a young girl who presumably is Esther. This made me think her story was based on reality, so I looked it up.
It was filmed in Norway, with Scandinavian actors, but was in English. The English bothered me. It kept distracting me, but it wasn’t dubbed. Norway has a new tax incentive program for work filmed in English.
Esther dreamed of being a movie star. There were numerous dream sequences where her dreams of a life on the stage and the harsh reality of the life around her mixed in grotesque ways. Her father was a barber. Although Jews were being hauled away daily by the Nazis, he was convinced they were safe. And they had tickets for America.
Like so many other Jews, he miscalculated the danger his family was in. He was taken. Esther and her mother fled the city hidden in a hay wagon. German soldiers found them in the country and killed everyone but Esther, who hid in a box.
Esther ran through the snow covered woods. She found Aksel (Arthur Hakalahti) chopping ineffectively at a tree. He was her age, but had a limp and some deformities in his arm and leg. He tried to help her. He brought her some of his clothes. The boy’s clothes gave her the idea to cut her hair and pretend to be a boy.
Esther, now using the name Ola, became a hired hand at Aksel’s father’s farm. Aksel’s uncle also lived there. The men were cruel to Aksel, but his mother (Laura Birn) was kind.
The farmer collaborated with the Germans. He had Nazi guests in his home frequently. Aksel’s mother was having an affair with one of the German soldiers (August Diehl), which Esther discovered when she saw them in the barn.
Life there was hard, cruel, and dangerous. Esther was always concerned about being discovered. She found a map and plotted a way to get to Sweden, where she knew of a safe place. Aksel wanted to get away, too.
Before Christmas, there was a drunken evening that ended in several deaths. Esther and Aksel ran for Sweden. They took the horse and a sled. The trip was a disaster in several ways, but Esther made it.
This isn’t a great film. It’s moving and engaging. It’s a different take on the courage and ingenuity needed to survive as a Jew in Norway during WWII. There’s tension and some nail biting involved in watching Esther struggle to stay alive and reach safety. It’s available on Prime Video.