January 7, 2022

Miniseries Review: "The Girl from Oslo" (Netflix 2021)

My initial observation: this is the worst title the producers could have chosen for the English-language version of this miniseries. The Hebrew title, Azharat Masa ("Travel Advisory") is not much better. The Norwegian title, Bortført ("Abducted") is probably the best of the lot.


The show tells the story of two Israeli siblings and the daughter of a Norwegian diplomat visiting Israel and Egypt when the three are abducted by Islamist terrorists and held as hostages to be used in a prisoner exchange for convicted terrorists being held by Israel and Norway.


The Norwegian title at least hints at the actual subject – the Hebrew and English, not so much. Something called “The Girl from Oslo” could be a romantic comedy, a travel show, a musical – anything but a show about international intrigue and transnational terrorism. What caught my eye was the one phrase, “When her daughter is abducted, a Norwegian diplomat travels to the Middle East….”


Without that one phrase, I would have ignored the series entirely.


The series is filmed in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Norwegian – I am sure that posed a variety of problems. As I listened to the English-dubbed soundtrack, it appears to be well-done. Some personal comments – some of the actors portraying Arabs were in reality native Hebrew-speaking Israelis. It is a hard accent to disguise, but overall was fairly good. Of course, the Arabic-speaking actors were perfect, but…


…and this is a small nit, but if I had to describe the Arabic in the series, I would call it closer to the Palestinian Arabic spoken on the West Bank than that spoken in the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, where the series is set. Like I said, a minor thing.


The subtitling was well-done, but for those who understand the underlying Arabic, you will note that these are more interpretations than actual translations, which if fine. I often interpreted rather than directly translated when I served as an Arabic translator. It’s an art….


There have been some complaints about the final editing, which by contract agreement was done by the Norwegians. The Israelis believe that the editing removed a lot of the subtle nuances about the geopolitical situation. Maybe – but the story remains tightly produced and tense throughout. Though, a little more   “attention to details” would have made a number of scenes more credible.


Some background for those of you who decide to watch it – and I do recommend it.


- This is a work of fiction. Although there was a kidnapping of a Norwegian and Israeli while on vacation in the Sinai, they were later released. There was no relation to designated terrorist groups Hamas or ISIS.


- As with all fiction, it does require some of what is called “suspension of disbelief,” in other words, this is a story, so go along with some of the things you might think are unrealistic.


- Much of the action on the Israeli side occurs in the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence. The ministry is a relatively new organization, loosely modeled on the American Office of the Director of National Intelligence, established to coordinate and oversee the various Israeli intelligence and security organizations. As in the United States, it is more an administrative organization than an operations agency. (See paragraph immediately above.)


- The three main organizations in the series are the Israelis, Hamas, and ISIS. For those who don’t follow Middle East events closely, it can be confusing. Hamas is an Arabic acronym for harakat al-muqawamah al-islamiyah (Islamic Resistance Movement), a Palestinian Islamist political and quasi-military organization whose goal is to eliminate the State of Israel. It controls virtually all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip. Its military arm, known as the ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is responsible for a variety of attacks on Israel. It is supported by Iran and possesses a huge arsenal of rockets and missiles.

- ISIS (also referred to in the series as “Da’ish”) is an acronym for the English translation of its name, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Da’ish is an acronym of the Arabic name, al-dawlat al-islamiyah fi al-‘iraq wal-sham. ISIS and Hamas, although both Sunni organizations, are often at odds with each other. While Hamas is the principal power in the Gaza Strip, ISIS has a presence in the Sinai Peninsula, and maintains a state of hostility with the Egyptian government. Israel and Egypt, as seen in the series, cooperate on efforts against ISIS.


- I was surprised at some of the Hamas versus ISIS interactions in Norway, including Hamas’s use of a female operative. I find that a bit hard to believe, but maybe they’ve moved out of the 7th Century.


My bottom line: It’s a good story, moves fast, and requires only minimum suspension of disbelief. It will entertain you, but it’s not Fauda.  


Watch it on Netflix