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Narvik review: An immersive, emotional portrait about wartime loyalty, trust & hope

Erik Skjoldbjaerg directs the Netflix release based on Cristoph Grøndahl's screenplay.

Narvik review: An immersive, emotional portrait about wartime loyalty, trust & hope
A still from Netflix's 'Narvik'

Last Updated: 04.08 PM, Apr 03, 2023



Set in the small port town of the Norwegian town of Narvik, the film explores the history and the makings of Adolf Hitler's Germany's first critical defeat in World War II. Norway has declared 'neutrality' in the war but also offered its port to the Germans so that the iron ore, which is coming from Sweden, to be shipped out to Germany. Despite the clearly-stated stance, Norway's neutrality is violated by German troops who invade Norway under the pretext of protecting them against the British & French (allied forces) aggression. With the Norwegian army now forcefully drawn into the drama, what unfolds is the biggest battle on Norway's land, also known as the Battle of Narvik.

Narvik, the film casts a compassionate light on the moral conundrums of wartime through the story of a family of a Norwegian soldier that is entangled in the hysteria in myriad ways.


'Neutrality' is the operative word in Erik Skjoldbjaerg's Narvik and the Norwegian filmmaker extrapolates the title as a metaphor in more than one compelling way. Through a fictional portrait of a major real-life event in the country's history, Skjoldbjaerg paints a poignant portrait of trust and how the act of breaching it, regardless of the circumstances, comes with its share of moral & ethical baggage. In essence, Narvik is an intimate story of Norwegian soldier Gunnar Tofte and how his little family, also comprising his wife Ingrid Tofte, their young son & Gunnar's father Aslak, wade through wartime and enunciate the challenges and compromises that one has to endure in order to emerge alive. While Gunnar takes part in a physical battle as Norway's one of most competent soldiers, his wife Ingrid wages one against her own self as she goes through a most testing moral course.

Gunnar and his troop of soldiers reach the Norwegian shores in 1940, assuming that their nation's neutrality vow is still as sanctimonious as before. He frees himself from the duties for a few hours to visit his wife Ingrid and son Ole at their home but is ordered to return to the camp by midnight. Gunnar fails to do so and when he does make his way back, he encounters bombing in his town and runs into troops marching on a dreadfully wintery morning. Turns out, Germany has violated Norway's neutral status and has already begun its invasion under a dubious pretext of offering protection against British attack. Gunnar then becomes a part of a new troop that decides on countering the threat by blasting the bridge that allows the German train carrying the iron ore.

In parallel, Ingrid Tofte, a translator and staff at the Narvik hotel that is currently hosting both German & British representatives, gets caught in a fiece battle of her own. While Gunnar marches along, Ingrid reaches the hotel the same morning to find that it has been taken over by the Germans, led by Consul Fritz Wussow (Christoph Bach), who now seek the whereabouts of the British folks living under the same roof. Still very much 'neutral' outside, Ingrid offers refuge to the Brit representatives, not fully aware of what's unfolding outside the four walls. While Gunnar pledges his life to his country's safety, Ingrid holds the fort back at home - but can they sustain the mounting pressures & mortal threats?

Where Erik Skjoldbjaerg succeeds the most is by drawing our empathy toward the Tofte family and using their relatable plight to discuss a larger idea. Just as in any war movie that's worth its salt, Narvik's core is an emotional one that is filled mainly with type of conflict that one goes through either once in a lifetime or never at all. The film has a heightened sense of sentimentality, no doubt, but Skjoldbjaerg & his team is unabashed in bringing that to the fore or making that the essence. And in his pursuits to understand and unravel the psyche of a community during such times, he poses many intriguing challenges to his characters who may or may not overcome them at the end of it. It's a story of loyalty, yes, but beyond that Narvik is about the necessity of hope in one's life.

One of the most heartwrenching sequences in the film comes in the first hour of the film's runtime when Gunnar is ordered to blast the aforementioned railway bridge. As a skilled young soldier, Gunnar forges on towards the task despite knowing that his own wife and child are on the train that the bridge is expected to carry in a couple of minutes. Skjoldbjaerg shoots the sequence with relentless energy, switching between Gunnar's panting demeanour, the imminent danger of the bridge collapsing and Ingrid & Ole surviving it all. Cinematographer John-Erling Holmenes Fredriksen, ably supported by Christine Hals's stirring soundtrack, uses the camera to juxtapose the breathtaking beauty of the locales with the blood and the filth that are about to be splattered and one of the main charms of Narvik is its visual storytelling. The war portions, in particular, are shot with an eye for reality and extreme detailing and with the camera perched in the heart of the action, Narvik is as immersive as it gets. 


Netflix is now host to a slew of war movies and with the stellar success of All Quiet in the Western Front with an Oscar nomination, the streaming giant is sure to feel a lot more buoyed. Narvik, a credible addition to the growing list, is a moving drama that never uses the context or the resulting warfare to endorse a false sense of machismo and bravado. Instead, the film comes across as a tender and empathetic tale of human survival that is sure to tug at our heartstrings. However, Narvik is derailed slightly by its predictable narrative that one finds in most films of this category and despite the tension that surrounds the plot, one finds the beats and the rhythm of the screenplay a tad too repetitive. The writers, led by Cristoph Grøndahl, still manage to salvage the film from this by imbuing the story with compassion. Should you be the warfilm afficianado, Narvik is a valid entrant to your watchlist that, charmingly, won't take more than 1 hour and 50 minutes of your time!


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