WARNING: the article contains spoilers about War Sailor – The series, released on April 2nd on Netflix!!
Representing Norway at the ceremony Oscar 2023 the director’s film had been chosen Gunnar Vikena story about the Second World War that follows the same path of successful films such as All Quiet on the Western Front, among the best currently on the Netflix catalog – which in fact, at the Oscars, managed to snatch nine nominations and four statuettes -. War Sailor, this is the title of Vikene’s work, has not garnered the same acclaim as the German film, but it is a project in which the director and producers have invested heavily. With over 11 million budget, War Sailor won the record as most expensive film in the history of Norwegian cinema. But the basic idea was so ambitious – and the starting material so abundant – that it convinced Gunnar Vikene to also make a miniseries. Netflix immediately seemed enthusiastic about being able to host the television transposition of the Norwegian film, so within a few months the operation was completed and War Sailor – To series landed on the platform with three episodes of one hour each.
War Sailor was originally conceived as both a film and a miniseries – explained the director – I just couldn’t pass up the idea of telling this story in both formats. During editing, we realized that a lot of material could not be part of the film, which is already much more than two hours long. Thankfully, Netflix has risen to the challenge.
Three intense and disheartening episodes came out of it, a long vision of about three hours that is heavy and difficult to swallow due to the delicacy – and, unfortunately, the topicality – of the topics covered. The story is that of Alfred Garnes (masterfully played by Kristoffer Joner), a family man who, on the eve of the Second World War, decides to embark on a Norwegian merchant ship to earn the money needed to feed his family. We are in the Bergen of 1939, shortly thereafter the Nazi troops will occupy Norway and the conflict will also detonate in the middle of the sea. From here they unravel two narrative strands: the first is the one starring Alfred and his best friend Sigbjørn “Wally” Kvalen (Pal Sverre Hagen), determined to survive the war at sea and return home; the other is the one that takes us instead to Bergen during the occupation and focuses on the disintegrated daily life of Alfred’s wife, Cecilia (Ine Marie Wilmann), and his three children. The extreme north of the continent was a somewhat neglected front compared to the warmer ones in central Europe. But even on the northern borders an exhausting war was fought, of which civilians paid the consequences above all. War Sailor retraces an event that really happened, which is that of the bombing of Bergen, in which a school was involved and dozens and dozens of children were killed.
It was precisely the youngest who paid a very high price in terms of human lives and Vikene’s film seems to want to shout it by removing the words from its protagonists.
The character of axle, a boy forced to embark on merchant ships together with adults, is emblematic of the dramatic situation experienced by minors during the war. His tragic end wants to turn the spotlight on the impressive number of innocent young lives broken by the fury of the conflict and gathered here in the last intense and poignant look that the boy throws at Alfred shortly before leaving. The brutality of war is the great theme of War Sailorbut Vikene’s film tells it considering theimpact that this has had on people’s daily lives. It is also of poverty which we talk about in the series, of the economic difficulties of European families on the eve of the conflict and the repercussions on their private sphere. Alfred and Wally choose to go towards a situation of extreme danger because that is the only way to be able to earn the bare minimum to support the family. The war is therefore not told through major military operations, through the most iconic battles or through the eyes of its most famous protagonists. Nor is it a chronicle of life at the front, as it could be instead Nothing new on the western front.
War Sailor tries to condense the effects of the conflict on ordinary people into three hours of viewing.
And the silence which predominates in the series. A silence that gives substance to the void, makes it accessible and close. There is not no rhetoric in the three episodes distributed by Netflix. The story is dry, with an almost documentary slant. The atmosphere is somewhat reminiscent The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, however emptied of its surreal symbolism. It is no coincidence that in one of the first scenes on board the merchant ship, a albatrothe animal that unwillingly initiates the Ballad of the English writer. War Sailor it is a long descent into the abyss, retraced without any frills or narrative sweetening of any kind. It is a heavy vision, which must be faced only if one is predisposed to be overwhelmed by an exasperated, exhausting realism, which forces one to come to terms with a reality that is unfortunately still terribly current. War Stories have been quite successful in recent years. Films like the aforementioned are proof of this Nothing new on the western frontbut also 1917, Dunkirk and other similar films. Films about conflicts have emptied themselves of the patina of rhetoric that celebrated their great deeds and are instead focusing on the lives of the invisible and the forgotten. Alfred he is just one of many, his personal story reflects the stories of too many that the history books do not mention, but who have experienced the consequences of the conflict firsthand on their own skin.
War changes you, profoundly. War Sailor tries to give us an idea by making great leaps in time and trying to give us back the most authentic image of the upheaval created in the lives of the protagonists. After spending the last years of the conflict away from everything and everyone, Alfred is fished out by his friend in Singapore, light years away from his own home. The series slams before our eyes the life turned upside down of normal men who have had to deal with detachment, fear, death, emptiness, life that resumes. It is not easy to readapt to a daily life that is no longer what it used to be. The war veterans returned home with death in their eyes and the awareness that the world, meanwhile, had gone on even without them. In this, War Sailor tries to give us a complete picture and in fact the three episodes go through the three stages lived by Alfred and by those like him who were forced to touch the horrors of the conflict: the departure as a last resort to ensure the survival of loved ones, the “emptying” which is encountered by being constantly under fire from bombs, and the return home, when it’s all over.
War Sailor it’s a series that is hard to watch, but the director’s aim is exactly that: to create a heavy, demanding, uncomfortable story that doesn’t need too many words to go into depth. In this, the success of the project is facilitated by an excellent interpretation of the protagonists, in particular of Kristoffer Joner, who manages to forfeit the transformation of the character and make the suffering palpable. It is not the TV series that is recommended if you are looking for a light vision, but it is excellent for lovers of true stories, bordering on docufiction.