by Steve Lancaster 8/5/17
Max Manus: Man of War • Two reviews, both are Norwegian, subtitled, and available on Netflix. Don’t let the subtitles keep you from these two. Max Manus is a real historical hero of the Norwegian resistance during WW II. Max volunteers to assist the Finns to repulse the Soviet invasion in November of 1939. An invasion that like its counterpart in Afghanistan, 40 sum odd years later, did not turn out well for the Soviets — although, on paper the Finns conceded territory to the Soviets. Keeping that territory would become problematic for Stalin.
Max returns to Norway on the same day that the Germans invade Norway. Max and his friends form a small resistance group, printing pamphlets, painting walls, and minor disruptions. They are so amateurish that a blind man hanging from a balloon could find them, and Max is soon arrested. He makes an escape out of a window and ultimately ends up in Sweden and then the UK.
It is in the UK that Max learns the English method of tradecraft as a saboteur and spy. He is sent back to Norway and for the rest of the war keeps the Germans tied in knots. However, at tremendous cost. By April 1945 his group is destroyed and he is the only one remaining.
Max receives the highest military honors Norway can give, but for the rest of his life he suffers from what we now call PTSD. The history is well told and the feeling of an occupied country is evident in the interactions of the actors.
Occupied is a series in 10 parts, and it appears that there will be a second season. It is produced by Yellow Bird Productions, the same folks who did the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and written by a well-known Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo. The series is set in the not-too-distant future. The PM of Norway is elected on a platform of ending dependence on fossil fuels. He proposes building Thorium Reactors to replace the lost energy of fossil fuels when Norway shuts down production. And, horror of horrorm he actually does what he promises. The bureaucrats in Brussels and the rest of the EU are shocked as reality sets in — no more natural gas and oil from Norway.
The United States has withdrawn from NATO and is independent of foreign oil. The American position is that it is a European problem, let them fix it. The fix by the EU is to encourage the Russians to seize Norway’s oil and gas fields. The PM Jesper Berg calls on the EU for help and gets not-so-politely turned down cold.
Berg is a thought-provoking character. As PM he is responsible for maintaining security in the country, and in the face of a Russian invasion he folds like a dirty sheet. His rationalization is that there is no way Norway could win, so to save lives he takes on the part of another Norwegian, Quisling, and cooperates with the Russians. The Russians keep promising to leave but always find a reason to stay, much like the Germans in WWII.
Berg tries to remain true to his ideals, but reality keeps creeping in. He is slowly pushed into understanding that his accommodation policies are responsible for the enduring occupation. Since it is a series, there are parts that drag, but thankfully, few. Think of it as a ten-hour movie. There is some preaching on global warming, but comparatively little considering the source. The gradual evolution of the PM, Berg, from spineless wimp to resistance leader is the most interesting characterization. However, the other primary character, Hans Martin, contributes to the story.
Hans Martin starts the series as a bodyguard for the PM. He saves the life of the Russian ambassador during a resistance assassination attempt. For much of the rest of the series he acts as go-between from the PM to Russia. He is ordered by the PM to cooperate (spy on) the Russians. This puts him in difficulties with his boss in the security agency and his friends. By the 10th episode, both are working to end the occupation.
It’s not a bad idea to watch both of these. One is factual history and the other is speculative. However, the interplay between fact and fiction presents a dynamic contrast. In light of the Russian occupation of Ukraine and Georgia, both give an opportunity for serious thought.