A classic Norwegian film relevant today

Film review

toya

Toya is the story of little girl orphaned in a European country, who comes to Norway to seek refuge.

GEIR MÆLAND
Films of Norway
Stavanger, Norway

Toya has one of the most interesting background stories in Norwegian film history.

Later in this review, I will get back to the content of the film (and it is unfortunately highly relevant today), but first a little “behind the scenes” and facts.

In the 1950s in Norway, there was no television. No device and no channels. But there was cinema, and there was radio.

Going to the cinema was something that an entire family could rarely afford, but it was common to gather around the radio and listen to the programs that were broadcast via that channel (and there was only one  channel: NRK, short for Norsk rikskringkasting AS, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation).

One popular radio program was broadcast on Saturday afternoons/evenings and was called “Barnetimen” or “Children’s Hour.” It was created primarily for children, but it was so well made and excellent that both mothers and fathers could have an interest in listening to it.

The creators of the program came up with an idea that turned out to be a huge success. The idea was simple, but also turned out to be ingenious:

“What if we invite our listeners to compose, write, and submit small stories (chapters) which we then put together into a story to be read in the broadcast ‘Barnetimen.’”

The idea was launched (of course on the radio, directly to the listeners) and then the concept was expanded so that the listeners could also submit self-made drawings from the episodes.

The radio listeners were given a title and a theme that the story and the drawings were to be about:

Title: Toya

Theme: Family fleeing war-torn country in Europe. The main character is a girl who comes to Norway alone and is placed with a foster family in Stavanger.

The concept was a success from the beginning. Children from all parts of the country submitted their own fictional stories and drawings; the editors of NRK chose the best contributions and compiled what ended up not only as a radio program, but then a book, and then a cinema film with a title track released on a vinyl record.

Of course, Toya was later made available on TV, VHS/DVD and streaming channels.

I have worked in the film industry since the beginning of the 1980s and I do not know of any film concept (worldwide) with a similar origin of concept/idea.

The book

The book was published by NRK and was composed of 16 chapters, submitted by various “authors” who were children aged 12-17 from all over the country. The illustrations (33 pieces) are children’s drawings, submitted by children from all over Norway.

Film storyline

We are in the early 1950s. World War II is over, but there still is a country trying to take over other countries with the use of weapons and soldiers. A mother, a father, and a little daughter, Toya, want to flee their home country, which is now being subjected to attempts at occupation/takeover from a foreign power.

During an attempt at escape, Toya’s mother and father die in a landmine explosion. Toya survives and is taken care of by the Red Cross, who ensures that she is sent away to safe Norway, where she is placed with kind foster parents (in Stavanger) who also have a daughter about the same age.

Toya faces some challenges adapting to her new surroundings, but things seem to be going well in the new peaceful and safe country. The foster family is kind and good in every way and everything is set for this to end well.

But one day, money disappears from the family household. Toya has not taken it, but indications lead to suspicion and Toya, in her innocence, is confronted with the accusations. This is perceived as deeply unfair, and Toya cannot prove that she has not taken the money. It becomes too much for the little girl; she decides to run away from the situation and the new family she has come to love.

The choice to flee again, and this time on her own, is very difficult, but Toya sees no other option and runs away. She meets Trygve, who turns out to be a kind boy about the same age as Toya.

The foster family has meanwhile registered that Toya has run away and they are upset. They alert the police and start a search for Toya, who now gets help from Trygve to hide from the police and to sneak on board a train to Kristiansand.

Toya is on the run again, and even though this time she is not completely alone and has help and support from Trygve, exciting and difficult situations arise.

To avoid spoiling the ending, my retelling ends here. However, I can reveal that we are talking about a happy ending so that no one needs to worry that this will not end well. After watching the movie, you will be left with a good feeling and a belief in justice and the good in people.

As perhaps many readers have reflected, sadly, this story is highly relevant again today. There is a lot in the film about Toya that immediately draws our thoughts to what is happening in Ukraine, and the refugee stories unfolding from there. Not only that, but fortunately, Norway is still a country that is safe and able to receive people who need peace, protection, food and water, and not least: love.

Title track, vinyl: “Eventyrvisa”

You have read about the background story of the radio program that became a book, and the book that became a film. Lastly, I should say a few words about the music, or the title track from the film.

“Eventyrvisa,” which translates to “Fairy Tale Song” was recorded and released as a single. The soloist on the record was none other than the actor who played the character Trygve in the film (Magne Ove Larsen). He was a very young actor from Rogaland Theater nicknamed “the sparrow” because of his clear, beautiful voice.

The song and vinyl release became, like the movie, a mega hit. It was repeatedly played on the radio, and the vinyl record sold an incredible 75,000 copies! I’m unsure of the population size of Norway at that time, but the number indicates that almost everyone who had a record player must necessarily have bought a copy. It is quite amazing.

Toya is available to anyone who has internet, a screen, and who logs in at www.filmsofnorway.com.

See the trailer:

 

All media and images courtesy of Films of Norway.

 

This article originally appeared in the June 10, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Geir Mæland

Geir Mæland is the founder and manager of Films of Norway, a Norwegian film-streaming service based in Stavanger, Norway.

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