War Sailor is a Netflix limited series that revolves around the harrowing experiences of war through the lens of two Norwegian merchant ship sailors. It narrates the events from 1939 up till the 1970s in a steadfast manner. It is directed and written by Gunnar Vikene, who manages to tell a bleak story but most importantly captures the truth of the post-war period. It has a runtime of 1 hour per episode and comprises three such episodes.
The series begins with a search. A man with a photograph in his hand looks for the man in it. Whom he identifies as Freddy. Then the time frame shifts to Bergen in 1939, months before the German occupation of Norwegian land. Alfred "Freddy" Garnes and his friend Sigbjørn “Wally” Kvalvåg are our protagonists. They work near shipyards. When they get an offer to sail to New York on a merchant ship for 18 months, they count it as a blessing.
Alfred or Freddy has a wife, Cecilia, and three children Maggie, Williams, and Olav. Whereas his friend Sigbjørn doesn't have any family. During the initial sequence when his young daughter is made aware of the fact that he will be leaving for New York, she is very against it. The morning he's to leave, she slams the newspaper onto him and inquires about the Germans capsizing ships and what it means for him. Alfred tries to ensure her that he will return, but she storms out after yelling "Go to Hell for all I care" not realizing that it could be the last time she speaks to her father.
When the German occupation finally takes place, all the Norwegian merchant ships are required to sail for the allies and hence despite wanting to go home, Alfred and Sigbjørn have to stay on the ships. The rest of the series moves through time periods showing the gruesome and miserable lives that the two men had to witness.
The show is brutally honest in its portrayal of the grime that is war. It doesn't glorify the act of participating in war as an honor. If anything, it shows how it was traumatizing for certain participants who had to help out the allies in efforts to bomb their own country which was under Nazi occupation. It is truly depressing and unnerving to watch. The director keeps it visually grim as well, with shots that lean into the depths of despair, flailing and staying on for longer sequences.
I think shows like these are difficult to rate because the substance's intent isn't to be liked. It is to deliver a story that not many are aware of. This show does that exceedingly well. I think the second episode was somewhat skippable to an extent wherein if you skipped it and watched the third directly you wouldn't feel like you missed out on too much. As the third episode hits you even harder with the true face of the war. Where even after winning, it feels like all is lost. As I watched the third episode I got a feeling of discomfort that I've not felt while watching anything lately. The fact that this show can bring me to discomfort is a sign of its quality. Alfred's story is one that I would probably remember.
The acting is incredible by all the actors involved and the characterization is honest. It was very well made and didn't lack effort. I don't think it will be everyone's cup of tea obviously but I would suggest it to you if you're into war films that truly tell real authentic tales of war rather than glorifying it. The sacrifices aren't remembered but their impact of them stays forever, the land doesn't forget.
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