Narvik: Hitler’s First Defeat 2023 Movie Review
The Second World War is only just beginning, and for Norwegians it still seems a long way off. When Narvik becomes a focus and target for Hitler, due to the shipment of iron ore, Norway is nevertheless suddenly drawn into the war. On the night of 9 April 1940, German soldiers land in the city, and the vast majority surrender, without a fight. However, a small group of soldiers takes on the dangerous mission of trying to cut off the iron ore traffic and the Germans’ advance.
Director Erik Skjoldbjærg is behind the portrait about Narvik’s brutal encounter with German forces, a story and film that is finally cinema-ready, after several postponements, first due to the pandemic, and then real war in Europe. The story is based on the first two months of the attack, which eventually resulted in the total bombing of the northern Norwegian city.
Hotel Royal will be the Germans’ new headquarters. There, Ingrid Tofte works as a maid and involuntarily becomes, due to her knowledge of German, the enemy’s interpreter and partner. Her husband in the young corporal Gunnar Tofte fights at the same time in his baptism of fire as a soldier against professional German alpine hunters in the mountains around Narvik.
In the lead roles of Gunnar and Ingrid are two relatively new and young faces in Carl Martin Eggesbø and Kristine Hartgen. The latter is probably an unfamiliar face to most, but Eggesbø is no debutant. He has been in another Norwegian war film, namely The Greatest Crime (2020), as well as series such as Skam and Pørni .
Both of them have something natural and down-to-earth about them which suits their characters well. They become our eyes into a nightmare where relationships, close ties and communication become central to survival. Ingrid in particular is portrayed well and multifaceted in that she has to balance her relationship with the Germans, as well as the British and Norwegians. She is thus left in the lurch and gradually has to make impossible choices.
Director Skjoldbjærg has shown himself to be a skilled storyteller and communicator before in films such as Nokas (2011) and Pionér (2013), Pyromanen (2016) and the TV series Okkupert (2015-2020). He also focuses here mostly on a bunch of main characters. This means that it is the human story that is at the center and that pulls us along, both emotionally and relatably, at the same time that through Gunnar, Ingrid and others we get to see several sides of the occupation’s bitter consequences.
At the same time, fortunately, not all Germans are portrayed as stereotyped and evil. It would of course have been an old-fashioned and superficial thing to do, in the year 2022. However, one might miss a little more swelling here and there, and some scenes feel a bit like filler scenes that don’t necessarily shine as much. However, the film is good at the human side, because it is often in the small stories, between people we can relate to, that the strongest and most emotional things are told.
In between, the film struggles with some small scenes that don’t quite strike a chord, but rather feel a bit like falling into a trap through, for example, heroic speeches and “war clichés” we’ve seen countless times. Some small, rough jumps in the action in some places also help to create a feeling that “we’ll skip this, because it will cost too much money”, which leads to a somewhat abrupt narrative progress here and there. Such time jumps are also reinforced by text posters, which rarely fail either to impress or to create good transitions in the narrative flow.
But this is certainly less of a poke at directorial choices. The battle for Narvik certainly makes an impression. It is a brutal story that we are not used to in this country. But after the fabulous Krigsseileren earlier this autumn set a high bar for both the depiction of war and the artistic presentation of such, Skjoldbjærg’s war portrait is perceived to be considerably more conventional and traditional in style, form and colour. And fair enough – this is a story that must first and foremost be told so as not to be forgotten. In this way, it comes strangely late in the series of Norwegian war stories on film. But, never too late that it’s not good for anything, and the Battle of Narvikhas become a solid, steady and strong film about a Norwegian nightmare moment that we can only hope will be a very long time until it happens again.