Audience pleaser, delights with its untrammelled lust for life
This is one of the first chances anyone has had to see this film in a proper condition in living memory. It played at the renowned Pordenone silent film festival last year and happily made it to London this. It was restored in the seventies for Norwegian TV, but it was played at the wrong frame rate, so folks were seeing a 165 minute movie in 120 minutes (and with subtitles instead of intertitles!), which was obviously a mockery.
The film is about a baby called Laila who we see grow into a little girl and finally a young woman during the film. She lives an exciting nomadic life with the whole tundra her playground. She is played by Mona Mårtenson, who is a wonder to behold. The movie is a drama of faces, there is a number of hugely expressive faces in the film, and all you can do is sit there and take in their radiance and pure joie de vivre. Mona for example really is a damned livewire, it's all she can do to stop bursting out of her skin, happiness is written all over her face. With silent film it really does help if you have expressive actors, and they hit the jackpot of them with this movie.
There's a lot of racial subtext in this movie which is mined as a source of amusement more than anything else (the film occasionally sails provocatively close to the wind in terms of racism). Apart from Laila's scrapes with death the film is a love story where Laila has to choose between a Finn and a Norwegian. Laila is a woman caught between two cultures, she is ethnically Norwegian but gets brought up with Sami (called Lapps in this film) who are the indigenous people of Finnmark. I think folks watching the film mistook Finnmark to be a concoction of Finland and Denmark, used to introduce a location nonspecifically (judging from the tittering). However it is the province at the very top of Norway, the Far North Eastern tip. Here the Sami people traditionally live off reindeer herding, and in fact you now have to be Sami in order to profit from reindeer husbandry in Norway by law. So they are a nomadic people, as opposed to the Norwegian's who lived off farming and trade via the fjords.
Sami are generally distinguished in this movie in that they wear a traditional ciehgahpir (which is a Four Winds Hat, a pretty particoloured chapeau, not too dissimilar to a jester's hat). They are a damned lively bunch, whose favourite pastime, hilariously, is lassoing. It was guaranteed to get a laugh from the audience every time Laila decided to lasso something.
The two main Sami men in the movie are the loyal Jåmpa and the rich man Aslag Laagje. Seeing those two I was strongly reminded of Frans Hals portraiture and Dreyer's film Der van engang (1922). A couple of lusty fellows with epic eyebrows who lead a nomadic life of wolf hunting and reindeer herding. The light of their life is Laila, their happiness continually bound to her fortunes.
The flavour of this epic movie is the joie de vivre previously alluded to. There's a positive joy associated with the presence of children and with mere existence that simply is no longer possible to capture at this point in time. It's a cynical world we have now where folks have to worry about events and processes that are far beyond their control, and it's no longer clear why we bring children into the world.
For nearly three hours though the audience forgot about that and revelled in the entertainment. It's a measure of the sheer good-naturedness of the film that when the melodrama comes along towards the end of the film, even though it's almost absurd, you're carried along willingly.
I only wish I could have watched it with my dog so she could have barked at the wolves. Yes there really is something for everyone here.
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