William Markus' directorial career was not as long as those of many of his contemporaries and I must admit I had not seen any of his work until now, apart from a few acting jobs in other directors' films. Miriam from 1957 has been called his best film and was also entered in the 8th Berlin International Film Festival, but I must say that I don't see it as an example of great Finnish cinema of the era.
The story is based on a novel by Walentin Chorell and deals with themes like class differences and social norms in a rural society. At the beginning an orphaned 17-year old girl Miriam (Anneli Sauli) moves in with a kind middle-aged teacher Torvald Allnes (Leo Riuttu) and his strict and uptight wife Britta (Irma Seikkula) to work as a maid at the local school. Miriam is also a childhood friend of the Allneses' handsome student son Hans (Pentti Siimes) and mutual romantic feelings soon light up between them, much to the chagrin of Britta who does not approve close relationships between different social classes. Illness in the family eventually leads things to escalate in an unfortunate way.
As a chamber-drama, the film mostly takes place in the Allneses' house and relies on unhurried pacing and old-fashioned withdrawnness instead of larger-than-life melodrama. The style is not without its problems; for one thing, I felt the storytelling dragged heavily and spent way too much time on the same situation with little sense of heightening passion. Instead of expressing the characters' thoughts and emotions verbally, the film utilizes the score by Heikki Aaltoila excessively: the music is playing almost non-stop, ranging from playful and cheery to serious and dramatic. The score itself is very pleasant to hear, but in my opinion some of the lighter melodies were not in tune with the general tone and it soon started feeling that too much is just too much even with regard to good music. In fact, the score could be described as stealing the show at many points.
The eponymous Miriam is played by the beautiful Anneli Sauli, who had got her breakthrough in the controversially sensual The Milkmaid (Hilja maitotyttö) a few years earlier. She gets one risqué dream scene in Miriam as well even though the suppressed nature of the story turns the attention more to her acting than physical assets. Sauli does her part well enough, as does Seikkula as the suspicious Britta, but the over-aged Pentti Siimes is not entirely convincing in the role of the indecisive Hans; perhaps his unforgettable comedic performances in other movies keep showing through the serious surface. Siimes' fellow comedian Leo Riuttu makes his character very likable for the most part, but I feel he could have put even more intensity in the scenes near the end.
The portrayal of the clash between love and social expectations is basically interesting, but the poorly conveyed tension ultimately renders the ending one of those "this is it?" type of lackluster conclusions. When it comes to Anneli Sauli's earlier films, I would much rather recommend her debut Me tulemme taas (1953) or The Milkmaid (also 1953), but perhaps Miriam can seem more fruitful to chamber story aficionados.
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