Thursday, April 13, 2023

War Sailor: A Reflection on Norway’s Entanglement in WWII

By José Alberto Hermosillo  

War Sailor” is a revealing, totally gripping, and insightful depiction of the forgotten Norwegian sailors who endured the atrocities of World War II.


Until now, War Sailor,” known as “Krigsseileren,” has been the most expensive production ever made in Norway. The film attempts to set history right by presenting the struggle of the sailors considered by many heroes. Still, people in charge see them as a public burden, criminals and deserters who deserve to be forgotten and dismissed without benefits of the law for their service.

“War Sailor” lobby at a Beverly Hills screening. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

During WWII, more than 30,000 Norwegian and 10,000 American sailors participated in the Scandinavian peninsula and the North Sea War. 

War Sailor” courageously unwraps straightforward the participation of those sailors who fought in those epic battles and the devastating repercussions for them and their families back home.

The film connects the sailors’ past pains with their present, showing how those traumatic experiences were passed on through generations.

The story focuses on Alfred, played by Kristoffer Joner (The Wave,” “The Revenant”), a working-class Bergen sailor head of a family. He is close to his childhood friend Sigbjørn (Pål Sverre Hagen, “Kon Tiki”), and they worked on a merchant ship for years.


When WWII started, they saw themselves fighting on the front line with civilian clothes, no weapons, and a starving crew when their merchant ship was targeted by German submarines. Their journey continues from being rescued to trying to go on with their lives separately, and how their families suffer from their absence and subsequent PTSD.

Marie Wilmann, "War Sailor." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

Actor Marie Wilmann, who plays Cecilia, Alfred’s wife, took her work in the movie personally. Her parents and grandparents lived during the war years, and she felt how they coped with those losses. The ramifications of the war affected women like her mother and grandmother.


Researching for the epic film was a colossal process. Norwegian writer/director Gunnar Vikene (Here is Harold”) based his original screenplay on factual events, interviews, and numerous field trips to museums and Norway’s National Archives. Then, he diverted his investigation to the sailors’ emotional, physical, and financial struggles.


To make this movie, the director’s most significant influence was the contemporary, Oscar Award-winning short documentary “The White Helmets.” A spellbinding real-life chronology of the UN first responders saving lives in Syria. Norwegians did not know much about the importance of that war, but the newly arrived Syrian immigrants helped to educate locals about their disturbing experiences in their troubled country.


“War Sailor” vividly illustrates how war affects everyone in the community. Director of Photography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (“Victoria,” “Another Round,” “Rams”) moved with the camera intuitively. His exceptional close-ups of the eyes of the actors are as beautiful as his landscapes and ocean views.

At the Oslo premiere, some attendees opposing the truth conflicted with the story. The filmmakers talked extensively with war veterans about how the war affected them and their families. Ironically, when they got a medal, they also got a bill to pay for making the medal. In addition, the people of Norway had to pay extra taxes for food and supplies. War sailors returned to their country with bills to pay, alcoholism, and addiction to medication and other drugs. Norwegian veterans never got the proper recognition or compensation for their service. Many sailors were from different countries, including Americans.

Pål Sverre Hegen & Marie Wilmann, "War Sailor." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

According to the actors, producing the film during the pandemic was even more difficult and expensive, as part of the cast and crew got sick with Covid-19. War Sailor” is the most prominent Norwegian production shot in Malta, Germany, and Norway.


War Sailor” is Norway’s Best International Feature Film entry for the 95th Academy Awards. Now, it is streaming on Netflix as a three-episode miniseries. 


Pål Sverre Hegen & Marie Wilmann, "War Sailor." Critc José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

WAR SAILOR trailer

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