The Wave (2015) by director Roar Uthaug.

    For a stable nation, Norway has a remarkable penchant for disaster films where impressive nature turns against the country and its inhabitants. The disaster genre gained momentum with The Wave (2015) by Roar Uthaug, set in a beautiful fjord. Geiranger is threatened by an unstable mountainside, which, if collapsed, will cause a 75-meter tsunami that will reach the town in 10 minutes and destroy everything in its path. Strong starting point for a film in which the hourglass is constantly running and, importantly, the tsunami is convincingly portrayed. This followed The Quake (2018), in which Oslo, including beautiful new construction on the fjord, is wiped off the map, and The Tunnel (2019), in which Norway, ‘land of a thousand tunnels’, is blamed for lax safety policy.

    And as it is with this genre: the disasters are becoming more and more apocalyptic. In 2021 it was in The North Sea (also The Burning Sea) the turn of the huge oil fields off the Norwegian coast, source of the now world-famous prosperity. Exploitation on the ocean floor causes shifts in depth in the film, with oil platforms being engulfed and a gigantic oil slick threatens to end just about all of northwestern European nature and economy. Unless the oil spill is set on fire. Call it Ekofisk’s revenge. Perhaps we were not a land of oil, the narrator muses at the end of The Northseaif Norway has been thrown back to the pre-oil economy, ‘maybe we are a land of water’.

    Yes, that oil. The fact that the discovery of the Ekofisk oil field in 1969, in the words of writer Johan Harstad, meant a sort of year zero for Norway, was not only drastic for the Norwegian economy (Stavanger became the Norwegian oil capital), but also, until the day of today, for Norwegian and Scandinavian culture. And not only because of the new wealth that was also expressed in higher culture budgets. Ekofisk also became a mythical entity; not only an endless source of oil, but also a source of inspiration for fiction writers, who could position the oil field in the midst of modern dilemmas about the choices a society must make – environment versus prosperity, for example.

    In the new season of the Danish Netflix series Secure, in which our heroine Birgitte Nyborg is foreign minister ten years after the last season, an important part of the plot revolves around the discovery of a large oil field under the former colony of Greenland, a field ‘the size of Ekofisk’. Mentioning the source of Norway’s phenomenal prosperity immediately sharpens the dilemma Nyborg faces. And all the more so because it will be very difficult to keep up with the climate promises with which her party entered the government. Is she going to throw it overboard at the first Ekofisk?

    The oil wealth is also central to the dystopian series Occupied (original title okkupert, available on Netflix), from an idea by thriller writer Jo Nesbø. The first of three seasons aired in 2015. In the near future, Norway has been hit by a catastrophic storm, a climate calamity of the first order. The Norwegian cabinet decides to stop gas and oil production and to focus on alternative energy sources for the future. But since, in this version of the future, Norway was about the last source of oil on the planet, the decision has far-reaching implications for the entire geopolitical order. Nesbø reminds us once again that Norway borders Russia in the far north.

    In a plot twist that now, in the midst of the war in Ukraine and an all-too-real energy crisis, seems alienating to say the least, Russia is annexing the Norwegian oil fields, with support from the European Union. It doesn’t stop at those oil fields, of course. The world economy continues to run, but in Norway resistance to this new occupation is growing. The then Russian ambassador to Norway filed a lawsuit against the allegedly far-fetched plot and recalled once again the “heroic contribution of the Soviet troops to the liberation of Norway during the Nazi occupation”.

    The oil wealth and the privileges for the youngest Norwegian generations have been woven through recent Norwegian films like a common thread. take The Worst Person in the World (2021) in which filmmaker Joachim Trier sketches the life of the young woman Julie (the beautiful Renate Reinsve); eternally searching for a destination in life, while she seems to have it all, in the most privileged part of the world. Trier explained in an interview in de Volkskrant how young Norwegians feel themselves anyway farthest manneske (the worst person on earth) can feel: ‘If you can’t even make it in Norway, where everything should be so easy, then you must be the worst person in the world, right?’

    Julie is no exception in the new Norwegian cinema; she is closely related to Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp, aka the protagonist of The North Sea) from the charming ninja baby (Yngvild Sve Flikke, 2021) who sees her vague ambitions (astronaut? cartoonist?) overturned when she turns out to be pregnant, and has been for a while. Both women go through deep valleys, both women struggle with a choice of children, and in the closing scenes of the films they appear to have mainly chosen for their artistic ambition. Still typically Norwegian, perhaps.

    But perhaps there is even more to it than the privileges that the discovery of that oil field in front of the door brought with it. Seven years after the attacks of 22 July 2011 in Oslo and on the island of Utøya (where 69 participants in a youth camp were murdered by terrorist Anders Breivik), Norwegian filmmaker Erik Poppe released a stunning reconstruction of the exact 72 minutes that the massacre on the island lasted; all filmed in one continuous shot. Utøya 22. July (2018) is about contemporaries of Julie and Rakel, who will never have the luxury of facing dilemmas in their lives.

    In witchjakt, one of the best Norwegian series of recent years (included in 2021 in the annual list of the Volkskrant series panel), about corruption and money laundering at government level, one of the characters says with conviction: ‘Things like this don’t happen in Norway.’ But nobody believes that anymore.

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