REVIEW: “The Girl from Oslo” bores more than it soars

Pia and her kidnapped friends. // Photo : © Israel Hayom & Netflix.
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The new Norwegian series “The Girl from Oslo” (Bortført) promises to submerge the viewer into the often murky world of Near East politics, diplomacy, and counter-terrorism. What it delivers is formulaic.

A parent’s worst nightmare…

It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Your child is abducted whilst they are on holiday. Now imagine if the kidnappers were from one of the most sadistic and brutal terrorist groups of this century: ISIS. This is the chilling reality that underpins the new Norwegian limited series, “The Girl from Oslo” (Bortført).

When parents Alex Bakke (Anneke von der Lippe) and Karl (Anders T. Andersen) show up at their daughter Pia’s apartment in Oslo for a surprise visit, they are informed that she is on holiday in Israel. Pia, is instead, having the time of her life on a sunny beach in Sinai with her Israeli friends Nadav (Daniel Litman) and Noa Solomon (Shira Yosef). On their way back after a day on the beach, the trio is kidnapped by operatives of ISIS.

Not having heard from her daughter in days, Alex travels to Israel to try and find her daughter. We learn that Alex was a diplomat who worked with an Israeli counterpart, Arik (Amos Tamam) on the 1992 Oslo Accords. Arik is now the Israeli Minister of Intelligence and tries his best to help free the trio.

Essentially ISIS is looking for a prisoner exchange for the captured trio with a heavy focus on the release of Abu Salim (Abhin Galeya) who is held in Norway. The rest of the series deals with the government responses, from both Israel and Norway, the complex politics of Israel’s relationship with the Islamic world, and the personal story of the bond between a mother and daughter. There is a very unexpected twist near the end which, unfortunately, is scripted clumsily.

Fast paced, based on some real life events

The series is a work of fiction but some real-life events – the 1993 Oslo Accords, the rise of ISIS, the fragmentation and sectarian nature of politics in Israel and Palestine today – give the drama some flavor. Generally, the acting is ok (no future Oscar winners here, unfortunately) but the plot does seem both dated (much of ISIS territory and influence and relevance has been lost since the death of its spiritual leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2019) and a bit far fetched at times.

The 30-minute episodes are fast-paced and the plot does get moving quickly. However, there is a very simplistic and clumsy feel to the whole abduction of Pia. There is a bit of a “white savior” complex to her mother and the Norwegian government’s efforts to free her. The series only gives a very shallow sweep of the deeply divided societies, communities, and politics of the region and the existentially complex issues which have been festering away for generations now.

The public has an appetite for shows set in the Near East judged by the popularity of the Israeli series “Fauda” or the Swedish series “Caliphate“. “The Girl from Oslo” tries to tap into this mood but falls well short of the high standard set by these two other excellent series. For those that want a further look behind the negotiations that led to the Oslo Peace Accords, “Oslo” (released 2021 on HBO) is a must-watch.

It is pleasing to see more Norwegian content on Netflix though.

Verdict: Not great, not terrible.
Score: 4 “probably best to avoid sunbathing in Sinai” travel warnings out of 6.

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayTravel

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