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Ingeborg Holm's husband opens up a grocery store and life is on the sunny side for them and their three children. But her husband becomes sick and dies. Ingeborg tries to keep the store, but because of the lazy, wasteful staff she eventually has to close it. With no money left, she has to move to the poor-house and she is separated from her children. Her children are taken care of by foster-parents, but Ingeborg simply has to get out of the poor-house to see them again... Written by
For 1913, this feature is years ahead of many, startlingly good!
Over the weekend I watched "Ingeborg Holm" (1913), directed by Victor Sjöström, and starring Hilda Borgström as Ingeborg. This early Swedish feature is 96 minutes long, and it has recently been released by Kino Video. I must admit that the film rather astonished me because of the quality of pacing, of acting, of story - nearly everything; others from this year and before that were anything near a feature length, for the most part, are exceedingly antiquated by modern standards. "Ingeborg Holm" is anything BUT antiquated. I recently watched "Terje Vigen" (1917), also directed by Sjöström, and was riveted from beginning to end. It made me want to see more of his work. This became available to me, and I eagerly watched it. It certainly didn't disappoint. The story concerns what were called "workhouses" in Scandinavia. It begins by showing Ingeborg Holm's husband, through diligence and good economic behavior, being able to begin to operate his own grocery store. Unfortunately, just after opening, the husband suffers a hemorrhage and dies. Ingeborg takes over the running, but unfortunately, through the untoward grafting of an employee she ends up bankrupt. She and her three children are left with a choice to take 20 kronor a month or for Ingeborg to go work in a workhouse. She chooses the latter. I won't give away all the plot, but you can be sure that she suffers the incredible inhumanity that was inherent in that system at the time. It is said that this film nearly single-handedly began an improvement in the social system of Sweden.
I can't say enough nice things about this film because the comparison that most Americans will make will be with D. W. Griffith. Griffith only compares in a few shorts by 1913, maybe "Female of the Species", and others like it. But his next year's (1914) "Judith of Bethulia" doesn't begin to compare favorably with "Ingeborg Holm". "Ingeborg Holm"'s pacing is superb, its plot line developed as many feature silents wouldn't be for years yet. The acting has moments of early histrionic style, but for the most part it is remarkably realistic and measured. The film could bring tears to some. For me, it was a wonder to behold such an early film with such high quality.
The lead is Hilda Borgström. There were moments, especially near the end, where her eyes kept reminding me of Bette Davis. Those who have seen "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" will see the eye comparison immediately! Also, the man who plays the Poorhouse Superintendent, Georg Grönroos, looks so much like the American President, Theodore Roosevelt, as to be uncanny. His habit of taking off and putting on his reading glasses is so similar as to make one wonder if he wasn't copying Roosevelt. Anyway, it was nearly unnerving at times! One more note: the film, as with many of the period, is divided into acts, each act obviously following the length of a reel. At the end of each reel there is considerable nitrate deterioration. At the end of the picture there is massive deterioration, but still not enough to not be able to follow the picture. Overall, the quality is first rate, the picture usually quite good, if not excellent. If you're a fan of silent film, especially early silents, and if you like social drama, this is an outstanding way to quickly go through 96 minutes!
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