Synopsis: A Norwegian family struggles to survive and defend their town during WWII. (Available on Netflix as of March 2023.)
Is there nowhere on this earth that people are safe from war? I thought of this while watching Narvik, the story of a family’s fight to repel the Germans during World War II. The town of Narvik is situated on Norway’s coast, within the Arctic Circle. You’d think that no country would pit themselves against the Arctic, land of plummeting temperatures and polar bears– both of which can easily kill humans.
Narvik begins in 1940, in the town of 10,000 people where German and British representatives are meeting with Norwegian officials, trying to gain exclusive rights to the town’s harbor. And neutral Norway (they must have heaved a sigh of relief when they checked their records to be sure that they had not signed a mutual assistance pact with Poland) wanted to keep waters safe for trade. At the time, Germany was a very poor neighbor indeed, invading Poland in 1939 under the auspices of “helping” beleaguered Germans there. Local bakeries not providing enough pretzels, perhaps?
Herr Hitler has the Nazi war machine flexing its muscle and reviewing its shopping list for said war machine. Ja, zee iron ore is uber important. Norway’s Scando neighbor Sweden had iron ore mines that shipped their products westward by rail and then sailed off from the Norwegian coast. Narvik’s port was large enough for ship’s traffic and– so important in this part of the globe– ice free thanks to the Gulf Stream. A word about the cold; this part of the world traditionally sees such cold winters that parts of the Baltic Sea become impassable. (My resident expert tells me this is because so much fresh water from rivers spills into the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland.) A German tendency to overestimate how well they can withstand the cold will come into play. Not for nothing have northern Scandos perfected an ability to perform outdoors in winter. Let’s meet the family who will be up against a formidable Teutonic opponent…
The Toft family lives a modest, but happy life in Narvik. Gunnar (Carl Martin Eggesbø) is a corporal in the army, while his wife, Ingrid (Kristine Hartgen) works at the local hotel. They have a son, Ole. And Gunnar’s dad–a tough yet tender old bird– shares a little cottage with the family. Gunnar has just completed maneuvers with his unit when they return to their bases close to town. Leave has been cancelled due to the British-German tensions, but Gunnar is granted precious leave when he pleads that if he could just see his son Ole for his sixth birthday. First Gunnar rushes to the town’s hotel to see his wife while she tends to the British and German guests. Besides serving duties, she’s been pressed into translating duties since she speaks German.
The afternoon ends at an impasse and the family unites at home for little Ole’s birthday. The child is happy to be with the whole family and delighted with the toy train car from his dad. Kids were satisfied with very little in the pre-EFTA days. Today, if a child in Norway was given one paltry gift for their b-day, they would probably cry.
The hours tick by too quickly, and Gunnar is running late in getting back to base because he’s been waiting for father and grandson to fall asleep so he and Ingrid can have sex. I mean, he was happy to see his son, but it’s obvious that the urgent need for leave was actually so he and his partner could be intimate after lonely, boring drills in the mountains.
When Gunnar finally makes it back to camp, he’s basically missed his commanding officer (seemingly) surrendering to the Germans who are now sinking Norwegian ships. I told you! Bad neighbors! Then again, the Germans could argue that they are not actually neighbors anyway. (But they certainly cannot argue that they were anything but bad neighbors to their fellow Jewish citizens.)
As the Norwegian troops disband, an officer, Major Omdal (Henrik Mestad) quietly rallies his troops and casually directs troops: Hey, stroll with me towards the mountains where we can start dynamiting railways, tunnels and bridges to keep them from German use. Do you think Gunnar is with this bunch? Actually, he hightails it back to town to say ‘hi’ to his kid and catch up on sex with Ingrid. Kidding! Of course he’s with them!
Now, aside from the whaling, there is a lot to admire about the Norwegians. For one, they are a rugged people undefeated by their mountainous, wintry land. They have recovered from a period of violent unneighborliness dating back to their Viking Days and now live peaceably beside other Scando nations and their many trolls.
And how they have adapted to the cold! While the cosmopolitan Danes indulge in hygge-ish winters, cozying up indoors with warm bevvies, blankies, books and convo, the Norwegians are outdoors swooshing around on skis, frolicking in the snow, and climbing mountains for fun! The Norwegians like to advise foreigners: there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. Not true. But they keep up with the propaganda, with one online site insisting that “wool next to your skin and layers is always the recipe of success.” Is it really?
But I will admit that Norwegians seem to be able to live outdoors in the winter as long as they have a traditional woolen sweater: blue background with snowflake pattern. I was worried for Gunnar out in the mountains with the Nazis in pursuit, but I had faith that sweater-wearing Gunnar would be able to scale a bridge, carrying dynamite in his teeth because that’s what the Norwegian youth seem to do for recreation anyway… well, without the explosives.
Meanwhile, Ingrid is holding down the fort at home. While Grandpa plays trains with Ole, she is at the hotel begrudgingly, yet professionally, serving coffee to the Germans who have installed themselves at the hotel. The main member of the German consul, Fritz Wussow (Christoph Bach), is now working under the direction of the military. He tells Ingrid that the Germans are nice, merely misunderstood. Ha! He uses his good manners and gleaming smile to drive home the point. Speaking with/interrogating Mayor Sigurd Omdal, Fritz remains impassive when the mayor is shouting about Norwegian neutrality being violated. Thankfully, he didn’t shoot him, as I expected. But you could definitely tell that Fritz was unmoved about the mayor wanted to evacuate civilians for their safety what with the British and Germans now blowing to bits anything in the harbor or town.
Ingrid is hard pressed to make nice while translating and serving coffee. She worries over her son’s safety. Thankfully, he mostly seems okay with air raids spent in basements. As long as he has that damned train. Geez, it seems he’s forgotten all about the person who gave it to him– his dad! Just kidding, little Ole is a sweetie and I was worried for him too.
In a subplot, the three members of the British consul who were trapped at the hotel have, with brave Ingrid’s help, managed to hide themselves in a “cabin in the mountains.” But it was actually just about ten yards outside of town. I figured they couldn’t elude the Nazis for long since they had perfected the door-to-door search to horrific effect.
Will Gunnar survive battles to re-take the town? I was concerned because although about 7,500 Norwegians soldiers were fighting, in the movie it seemed there was just Gunnar and some of his friends. And what of Gunnar’s frostbite?!
Will Ingrid be able to save herself and her young son? For better or worse, Herr Fritz is taking a very personal interest in her, and it seems to have nothing to do with her efficient breakfast service. Well, maybe it does. Germans do like efficiency. And, further arousing his interest, she is always on time for work. Das ist gut, liebchen. Fritz doesn’t get that Ingrid is Norwegian and loves her husband. And, no, Fritz, unlike you and your ilk, she does not get off on asking people: Where are your papers/ Wo sind deine Papiere?
So, movie lover, watch this rousing spectacle of love and survival in the snow. And have a little faith that things will turn out okay for the Tofte family. After all, this is a Norwegian film.
P.S. Finally, a word about my initial question…Is anywhere safe from war? Answer: No. Every continent with the exception of Antartica has been bloodied by warfare. God forbid that something like the movie Avatar’s energy source unobtanium is found there though. Countries will be fighting there and blasting the poor penguins in the process.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Suspenseful account of the WWII battle in Narvik. Character development is a little truncated and a clunky bit here and there in the screenplay, but worth watching.
Humor Highlight: The Norwegians’ misunderstanding that being outdoors in winter is easy and even enjoyable.
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