War Sailor – Norway

Mark Cassar
The feature film “War Sailor” has been nominated for the 2023 Nordic Council Film Prize.

Alfred Garnes is a working-class sailor, who has recently become the father to a third child. He and his childhood friend Sigbjørn Kvalen (Wally) are working on a merchant ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when World War II breaks out. They are unarmed civilians on the front line of a war they never asked to join. The two men struggle for survival in a spiral of violence and death, where German submarines may attack their valuable vessels at any moment. The war sailors have one goal – to survive and return home. Meanwhile, Alfred’s wife Cecilia is struggling through the war alone in Bergen, raising three children on her single-handedly, not knowing whether she’ll ever see Alfred again. When British aircraft attempt to bomb the German submarine bunker in Bergen, they hit the primary school at Laksevåg and civilian homes at Nøstet instead, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. When the news reaches Alfred and Wally in Canada, they wonder if there’s anything left at home for them to return to.


With War Sailor, director and writer Gunnar Vikene has created an epic film about the Second World War, and an intimate and credible story about the human cost of warfare. Aesthetically and dramaturgically original, the film about those who went to sea and those who stayed at home has become a complex portrait, transcending its genre. Exploring how men and women of the working class are ensnared by decisions in which they have no say, and how the trauma of war can be a burden which is simply too heavy, the film is relevant far beyond its historical context. 

At the heart of the story are two friends, subjected to inhuman tests and handed impossible choices, forcefully portrayed by two of Norway’s finest actors: Kristoffer Joner and Pål Sverre Hagen. The spectator is brought along to the magnificent and dangerous ocean, into the claustrophobia of the machine room, and to the life ashore by Sturla Brandt Grøvlen’s beautifully present camera work, and by the impressive sound design, in ways which are both terrifying and thoroughly moving.

Screenwriter and director – Gunnar Vikene

Gunnar Vikene (born 1966) is a writer and director based in Bergen. He had his breakthrough in 2002 with his feature debut Falling Sky which won the audience prize at the Lübeck Nordic Film Days. His following films Trigger (2007) and Vegas (2009) were also festival hits and received critical acclaim. He then directed the satire Here is Harold (2014) before turning to television drama with Borderline, for which he won best director at the national Gullruten television awards. He was also associated with the two hit series Occupied (2020) and Pørni (2021). His most ambitious feature project to date, War Sailor, was the biggest Norwegian hit of 2022 and Norway’s Oscar entry in 2023. It also premiered successfully on Netflix as a three-part mini-series.

Producer – Maria Ekerhovd

Maria Ekerhovd (born 1975) is a producer and founder of Mer Film, one of Norway’s most established production and distribution companies. Since 2006, she has produced and co-produced more than 40 films and documentaries with both newcomers and seasoned directors. Among the international acclaimed features on her credit list are Ole Giæver’s Out of Nature (2014), nominated for the Nordic Council Film Prize, Iram Haq’s What Will People Say (2017), and most recently Itonje Søimer Guttormsen’s Gritt and Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents. In 2022, Gunnar Vikene’s War Sailor became a massive box office success and was Norway’s candidate for the Oscars in 2023.

Ekerhovd’s numerous co-productions include Wim Wenders’ Every Thing Will Be Fine, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, and Jonas Poher Rasmussen’ s triple Oscar-nominated documentary Flee. In 2021, she was handed the Eurimages Co-Production Award.

Production information

Original title: Krigsseileren

International title: War Sailor

Director: Gunnar Vikene

Screenwriter: Gunnar Vikene

Producer: Maria Ekerhovd

Production company: Mer Film, Rohfilm Factory and Falkun Films

Length: 151 minutes

Norwegian distribution: Scandinavian Film Distribution

International sales: Beta Cinema