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(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
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This really is a beautiful movie, exquisite in detail, gorgeously filmed, directed with great subtlety and intensely focused. Nothing wasted or thrown away here. Everything counts. We feel the forebodings of tragedy first in the straight razor in Sixten's hand as he caresses the back of Elvira's head, and then again there is the knife on their picnics, stark, solid, sharp steel in the paradise of their love. Note too the shots on her belly. The child touches her stomach. She vomits from eating flowers...
To really appreciate this movie it should be understood that it was filmed in the sixties and it represented to that audience something precious and true. Note the anti-war sentiment seemingly tangential to the story of the film, but nonetheless running as a deep current underneath. He was an army deserter, like those in the sixties who fled to Canada to avoid the draft and the body bags in Vietnam. Note his confrontation with his friend from the regiment, a scene that many in the sixties lived themselves. He gave up everything for love, but it really is her story, her choice. She chose a man with a wife and two children, a soldier. She had many other choices, as the friend reminded her, but for her he was the "last one." What they did was wrong, but it was indeed a summer of love, the cold northern winter in the distance, ripe red raspberries and mushrooms to eat and greenery everywhere and the sun brilliant and warm; and then in the next to the last scene with the children when she faints as the child pulls off the blindfold of the game and is surprised to face Elvira's belly, there is just a little snow on the ground, perhaps it is from the last winter, not completely melted.
If you can watch this without a tear in your eye and a melancholy feeling about the nature of human love, you have grown too old. Theirs was a forbidden love, like that of Romeo and Juliet, a tragic love, doomed from the start, which is why the ending of the movie is revealed in the opening credits. Those who think a story is spoiled by knowing the ending, know not the subtle ways of story, of great tales that are told again and again. Knowing the ending only sharpens the senses and heightens the appreciation.
Pia Degermark who plays Elvira, who is a tightrope walker, a girl of gypsies, has beautiful calves (which is all we see of her body), a graceful style and gorgeous eyes, made up in the unmistakable style of the sixties, very dark with long heavily mascara'ed eyelashes. And she is a flower child, a fairy child of the forest, drawn to things earthy and mysterious, to a strong young man and a fortune teller who finds for her only small black spades in her future. In life we chase after butterflies. Sometimes we catch one.
One of the simple pleasures of life is to sit in a darkened theater and
have a film capture your soul, not as a single person, but as the whole
sigh of the room. I saw this in 1967 in Boston, in a makeshift theater.
This was at the height of the flower revolution, when Boston was the
intellect of the emerging 'counter' culture.
This film found a hungry audience -- we and it fed each other. At the same time down the road were Hollywood projects on (what we though was) the same notion: passion before everything, and the purer the passion the clearer the beauty. Life matters less than living. 'Bonnie and Clyde,' and 'The Graduate' seemed slick and pale in comparison then and more so now.
For decades, I recalled many of the images:
-- the raspberries and cream (which she bought by selling her image)
-- her luminescence, her dainty vomit, the fish in her skirt, the attentive query about eggs
-- the fainting when she is discovered by innocence (which we ourselves did at the very beginning through the same child's eyes)
-- 'There are times when you don't question the cost'
and of course:
-- the release of the butterfly, and the reluctance of the filmmaker to let us release the image.
This film succeeds because it is so simple, but its simplicity is not accidental. The notion of equating Elvira with the music by bringing the musicians into the story shows extraordinary skill. I can think of no other case where a classic piece of music is renamed because of a film.
At the time, I recall great discussion of the book Sixten carried around. Like Hamlet's book, it 'mattered,' but I have forgotten its importance. I remember much in the underground press about the self-referential nature: the passion and beauty of the characters and so with the film: the simple commitment to no plan of both: and the accepting of the consequences by both for meditative obsession.
But another of the simple pleasures of life is to live long enough to see two of ourselves: the recalled initial engagement with the film and the current one. I wish this pleasure on all of you. Oh how we have all changed. (I strongly suspect that no person who was not there will find any traction with this film, but perhaps others like it.)
And watching this now, I discover I'm more of an 'In the Mood for Love' kind of guy. Same ethic. Same commitment to enter the unknown. But the passion if stronger is more diffuse and less selfish. I recommend seeing both films. Let me know.
I had the pleasure, and good fortune to see this film on the big screen. It exemplifies classic beauty, one is reminded of Renoir paintings. The film uses landscape to reveal inner emotions, a rarity these days. The structure reveals the final outcome in the beginning, leaving us with is an examination of a process so lovingly portrayed by Widerberg, a process so perfectly focused -- a delicate, lyrical love story -- quite an achievement.
Breathtakingly beautiful photography & music help to make this movie the finest love story I've seen. It's based on a true story that took place in 1859, although the movie is set at a somewhat later date. It's hard to imagine that these two young people, so full of life & love for each other, would choose the option they did to resolve their problems, but part of what this movie shows us is the inability of these two "upper class" individuals (Lt. Sparre is a Count, an aristocrat, & Elvira is a world famous circus performer who is mentioned in newspaper articles & a book) to cope with life once it has beeen altered beyond what they have been accustomed to deal with. If you choose not to read the subtitles, you'll still enjoy the movie for its visual beauty & the terrific music by Mozart & Vivaldi. Ironically, the drawing Elvira pawns for pennies is by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec!!
Finally I saw this film on a college campus viewing in 1969 and tried
to have a discussion about it with a stranger....big mistake. This is
no light-weight film.
Yes there is the storyline fact that he left his wife and children. Also the way they solved their problem is revolting to our western sensibilities who like to find living solutions to problems (with notable exceptions).
But consider the pace of the film, each second of life was dear and sweet, the music gave focus to the sunlight. She was beautiful in youth (the worshiped idol of the 60's and on). He was caught in his love for her, a grasp at life as with the one you love, trapped in the amber of film, forever.
The young couple were living without a plan for the future, not unusual when you're young. Their natural vitality gave a calm pleasure to each segment of dialog free film. A snippet of life savored. One wonders: Is old age our souls' goal?
Yes the audience is practical, steal a chicken, flee the country, do something. And if so how is their love and beauty made to stand before us? Tragedy is necessary.
Now, I'm much older, but still, once every so often I will see an Elvira walk by, I hold my breath and marvel and am pleased that the world still has room for more such Elviras. Grace and beauty.
Since that time, with the perspective from the artists' work I can see a world that would have been only guessed by me, perhaps in a dream; thanks to Elvira Madigan.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm not usually a fan of these pure-love-conquers-all type of films, but I really liked Widebergs "Elvira Madigan". It's funny to see how many Americans think of it as "slow" and "boring" because there are so few dialogs and you already know the end. Old Scandinavian movies kind of follows their own way of building a story, nowadays they follow the American style more, which isn't bad either, just different. But even though a movie is made in a different way than you are used to, it might be worth giving it a chance. "Elvira Madigan" needs to be read between the lines, you have to notice all the details to see the beauty and the complexity of the story, and since it's so "slow" you get a lot of time to do that. The dialogs are very few, but they all mean something. I especially liked when Sixten talked to his friend about that the world could be just one straw (if that's the right word?) of grass and that love is when you want to See the world from your lovers eyes. Often when you try to explain love, all your words become clichés but in this film it's like you have never heard about love before. But actually I didn't really notice how good I thought this film was until the ending, when the beautiful picture of Hedvig capturing a butterfly froze to the sound of the gunshot. Thanks to that frozen image, the beauty became immortal. It wouldn't have been the same if you could actually see them dying. It left a nice, warm feeling in my chest that I think will stay for long.
Remarkable sometimes impressionistic photo and some scenes are just so beautiful! Oh I wish I was in his place out on that meadow... After Goyokin this is the most beautiful film I've seen. The story is perhaps a little weak, especially in the need. Very few dialogues. The music is of course good since it's Mozart. 4 out of 5.
I saw this film when it came out in the 1960's. It is loosely based on a true story of two lovers, a beautiful tightrope dancer and a married Army Lieutenant, who run away together in the late 1800's. I was blown away by the sheer beauty of this film. There are no car chases or explosions. Instead, it brings you close to nature with the sights and sounds of the fields and trees, the wind, sumptuous berries, bird songs and crickets. Their love plays out within some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. It runs almost in real time, quietly moving their story along. This film left a lasting impression on me for decades. I loved it.
I'm glad I finally had the opportunity to watch this movie. I can remember when it came out but was not in a location where it was available. Also, I didn't know this was based on a true story prior to watching it. If you like a good love story you should enjoy it. If you like a movie that is visually beautiful you should enjoy it. If you like both you should love it, as I did. If you like neither it's worth a look anyway. Who knows, you might surprise yourself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Looking for a rare and good film to watch for Valentines Day ? Director
Bo Widerberg's classic 1967 film Elvira Madigan is tailor made for
lovers. It was a big hit in the 60's, when love and individual freedom
was the popular philosophy. In fact, looking at this film, audiences
must have sighed in relief that such a case as that of Elvira Madigan
and Lt. Sixten Sparre would not have occurred in their time. Elvira
Madigan (played by the beautiful Pia Degermark) is a tightrope walker
for the circus. She falls in love with the married Lt. Sixten Sparre
(Thommy Berggren). The 19th century world they live in shuns their love
and is even after them. A life on the run is at first tolerable. At
least they are able to eat picnics in the forests and make love. This
scene, by the way, is the most romantic in the film. The Mozart Piano
Concerto 21 second movement, andante, is played repeatedly as the
romance theme. It became so popular that even the concerto was named
the "Elvira Madigan" concerto though surely Mozart would have none of
The acting may appear stilted and pantomime, and there are plenty of moments in which there is no talk but visually and dramatically it's a very well-done film. Also in the score is Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The story is said to have been based on an actual event in the 1850's. A pair of lovers on the run killed themselves in the woods. The movie has set the time to either late 1890's or early 1900's. The reference to Toulousse Latrec and the style of dress gives it away. This movie is very romantic and haunting. It will move you to tears.
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