Add Struggle for Life, a fabulous multi-lingual Norwegian series, to your must-watch queue. Better yet, get your binge-watch on for it now.
Struggle for Life (Kampen for tilværelsen), a character-driven, multi-strand drama, is ever so binge-watchable. I’m already waiting for Season 2 to cross the fjords.
The story revolves around Tomasz Novak, an unemployed Polish linguist played by Bartek Kaminski (Max Manus: Man of War), who was nominated in the Best Actor category for this role at the 2015 Gullruten Awards.
With little to no prospect of finding gainful employment in Warsaw to support himself and his family, Tomasz, at the urging of his girlfriend, leaves behind the rundown hi-rise with a broken lift and a flat that is small and getting smaller (what with a new baby on the way) and sets off for Norway. There he hopes to find the father he’s never known and lay claim to three decades worth of money the man would have spent on him had he raised him.
Only Tomasz has no idea of who this man is. The only things he has to go on are a few clues and a 30-year-old photo given to him by his mother.
An so begins his adventure…
It is not smooth sailing, but things have a way of righting themselves just when they look their worst.
Penniless in Oslo, Tomasz gets work and a place to bed down with Bartosz Molik (Janusz Chabior, The Pact), a fellow Pole with an entrepreneurial spirit. This set-up introduces Tomasz to Serafin (Jakub Kamienski, Pierwsza milosc), one of Bartosz’s laborers, and the pair become fast friends. And while Tomasz doesn’t see himself cheating on his girlfriend, a psychic does. With her.
As for the man he believes is his father, Tomasz finally meets him. And the man’s long-suffering wife. (If that phrase reminds you of 30 Degrees in February, there’s a particular scene in Struggle for Life that is very reminiscent of one in the Swedish drama.)
Meanwhile, denizens of the affluent Ullevål Hageby area of Oslo have their own problems to deal with, although lack of money isn’t one of them.
Has-been film director Jørgen Skolmen (Øystein Røger, Occupied) and his wife Anitra (Lena Kristin Ellingsen, Dag) — a modern and fairly clueless couple — are putting their house on the market. Whether they get the 9.2 million kroner they want for it is an altogether different matter. Living directly across the street from them is the Vindenes family — Karianne (Trine Wiggen, Mammon), who’s a doctor, her husband Hugo (a nearly unrecognizable Mads Ousdal, Codename Hunter), and their teen daughter. The Skolmens’ house has more light, and that is reason enough for Karianne to put an offer on it.
Dentist Vidkun Rotevatn (Ola G. Furuseth, The Half Brother) and his pregnant wife Line (Tone Beate Mostraum, Eyewitness) are at odds over getting their two children a dog the youngsters are desperate for. And the Rubenesque Margareth (Monica Hjelle, 37 1/2) and her big teddy bear of a husband Odd-Einar Loe (Nils Jørgen Kaalstad, Lilyhammer) take on weight loss together, dropping NOK 40,000 (roughly $4600, £3700, or €4400) on two bicycles in the process.
These families have it all, really. Yet for some amongst them, the grass is greener (or the rooms are sunnier) on the other side of the street, while others have secrets that would shatter their comfy lives if they were ever revealed.
Like many Scandinavian dramas, Struggle for Life offers up social commentary about the disparities between people who are well off and those who “long to pay taxes,” all within the universal theme of seeking happiness and a better life. Where it differs from most is its satirical approach to the haves’ middle-class problems and the humorous approach to the issues faced by the have-nots. Certain scenes on both sides of the economic divide are downright hilarious.
It’s thoughtful and witty stuff, but what really makes the series as engaging as it is, is the character of Tomasz. He’s endearing and lovable and perhaps even familiar. With his boyish good looks, naïveté, and utter sincerity, Tomasz is an everyday hero. A stranger in a foreign land on a mission that becomes less about money and more about the man and the biography he might have had but didn’t.
Created and written by Bjørn Olaf Johannessen (Mirush), Erlend Loe (North), and Per Schreiner (The Bothersome Man), Season 1 of Struggle for Life is now screening in the US on Amazon Instant and Prime Video, in the UK also on Amazon Instant & Prime Video, and in both territories on Eurochannel and the Eurochannel channel on Dailymotion. It is shown in Norwegian, Polish, and English, with English subtitles.
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