It is still a Tuesday and my scout for good cinema is on! And to keep abreast with some of the international content doing the rounds, I decided to watch and review the Norwegian drama War Sailor which is now streaming on Netflix. The interesting bit here is that War Sailor was originally a film which was Norway’s Official Entry To The Academy Awards this year. But Netflix decided to cut the film into a mini-series. On reading about it and inquiring about it further, I got to know that this ‘series’ contains 20 odd minutes of additional footage which did not make the final cut of the film. This for me was an interesting approach and I was curious on what the series had to offer.
It was last year when I had watched the German film All Quiet On The Western Front on Netflix which later on did go on to lift the Oscars this year, under the Best Foreign Film Category. And it was one of the best representations of War and its after-effects that I had witnessed on celluloid. The makers were able to create moments which were gut-wrenching with the right messaging at the end, not only showcasing the after-effects of war but also the psyche of the soldiers who had to resume their duties unceremoniously. Keeping that in mind, I did venture into War Sailor with a lot of hope considering that the series did also have war as a backdrop. So then does War Sailor live up to the high expectations, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Set against the backdrop of World War 2, War Sailor follows the story of a sailor who has to leave his family in order to carry out merchant navy duties at the start of the second World War. Now the second World War will go down in history as an event that may have completely changed the face of the world. There were layers to it and it is important to understand the geo-politics behind it. Each country, during this period, has had its own set of historic events. And so I was keen on understanding the Norwegian events through the film. But at the same time, the thing to be noted is that this is a haunting human tale set against the backdrop of war. So keeping that in mind, the story is exceptional and does linger on long after the series has ended. The screenplay standing at 3 episodes of roughly an hour each does make for a rather quick watch but it is haunting and compelling in so many ways.
The drama here is edited in a typical three act structure over its three episodes. The first act is all about the setup, the second is about the war and the set of losses that followed and the third is about the psychological after-effects of war. So as a part of the world building, the drama does open with a stray incident which is used as a foreshadow before the flashback begins. So you are introduced to the protagonist and his family who reside in a humble household. The thing to keep in mind is that this was almost the threshold of the start of World War 2, and so the economic state of many families is representative through one of them here. Taking up a job at the sea for a long period was perhaps the only choice for the protagonist. And that meant that he had to stay away from them for a very long period!
The proceedings are haunting and engrossing given the bond that the protagonist does share with his family. The thought of not getting to see them for a long period, or even worse ever, was a strong emotion that was beautifully touched upon. Once away, the chain of events that follow featuring a rescue operation against the driving orders, only to have to extend his stint in the sea with a bunch of strangers was quite heartbreaking to witness. This while the family back home had to deal with this event equivalent to thousand deaths everyday. The sacrifice of the protagonist and his family was shown beautifully. The war sections were shown in a horrifying manner on both fronts which did result in some chilling visuals. There was a sense of remorse that I did feel strongly along with resentment that did make for an uncomfortable watch!
If there was one minor criticism in the drama then that was in the transitions between scenes. Some of the transitions were too convenient for my liking. For instance Alfred’s friend finding out that his family is alive or also the part wherein Alfred was found to be alive. But amidst this, the emotional core depicting the psychological after-effects of war was haunting and it was almost as if every individual was scarred for life, as shown in the series. The lines at the end of the series did add to a lot of trauma wherein the numbers were baffling thus resulting in a screenplay which was brilliantly penned and haunting to a point wherein the drama did linger on long after it had ended!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational and they make for a solid impact. The BGM is loaded with melancholy playing out amidst the sounds of the containers and metals clanking against one another. The cinematography is excellent and captures the war visuals poetically that do strike the right chords of resentment. Even the colour grading featuring a coat of pale blue colours does add to the mood of the drama. The editing could have been smoother with the transitions. Director Gunnar Vikene does a marvelous job, handling the subject with utmost sensitivity. The psychological impact that the series does have on the minds of the viewers is haunting and for that, the director does deserve distinction marks.
The performances are brilliant here. Alexandra Gjerpan as Hanna and Arthur Hakalahti as Braathen do have their moments to shine. Ine Marie Wilmann as Cecilia is brilliant and her ability to portray her vulnerability while putting up a steadfast and strong face was indeed commendable. Pal Sverre Hagen as Sigbjorn is sincere and earnest in a job well done. Kristoffer Joner as Alfred is just so brilliant. Having so many emotions to play with, he starts off in an understated manner only to completely switch gears in the final act. This was a performance that does stay with you long after the series has ended!
War Sailor is a haunting portrayal on the psychological after-effects of war that does make for a brilliant but a rather uncomfortable watch. Available on Netflix and Highly Recommended!