A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, February 2, 2018

Laila (George Schnéevoigt, 1929)

Harald Schwenzen, Alice O'Fredericks, Mona Mårtenson, and Peter Malberg in Laila
Laila: Mona Mårtenson
Jåmpa: Tryggve Larssen
Anders: Harald Schwenzen
Aslag Laagje: Peter Malberg
Aslag's wife: Cally Monrad
Mellet: Henry Gleditsch
The merchant Lind: Finn Bernhoff
Lind's wife: Lily Larson-Lund
Inger: Alice O'Fredericks
Anders and Inger's father: Rasmus Christiansen
Magga: Inge Brekke

Director: George Schnéevoigt
Screenplay: George Schnéevoigt
Based on a novel by Jens Andreas Friis
Cinematography: Waldemar Christensen, Allan Lynge

Exciting but overlong, Laila is a landmark film in Norway, but its cultural conflicts are universal. The story takes place in an unspecified past, when tensions between the Norwegians and the Sami (we usually call them Lapps, as do the intertitles, but that seems to have become a pejorative) have reached a kind of uneasy truce. The Norwegians want to settle down and build towns, while the Sami remain nomadic, moving their reindeer herds about freely in search of feeding grounds. At the film's beginning, the Norwegian merchant Lind and his wife set out to have their infant daughter baptized, but as they're traveling in their reindeer-drawn sleds across the winter landscape, they're attacked by wolves. The nursemaid Magga, who is carrying the baby, is separated from the others and her sled overturns; she loses her grip on the child, who is tossed into some bushes, but before she can cut the rope that tethers the sled to the reindeer, she is towed away. Night is falling, and the little company must wait until morning until they can search for the baby. They find only the empty basket in which the child was swaddled. Director George Schnéevoigt makes the most of this sequence, as he does with several other action scenes, including a hair's-breadth rescue when a boat traverses some rapids and goes over a waterfall later in the film. Fortunately, one of the Sami, Jåmpa, who works for the wealthy herder Aslag Laagje, comes upon the baby and takes it to be raised by the childless Aslag and his wife, who name the girl Laila. A year goes by before Aslag discovers that Laila is actually the Linds' lost child, and he reluctantly gives her up to them. But then the land is struck by an outbreak of plague which kills both of the Linds, and the elderly couple who are looking after Laila allow Aslag to take her home with him. She grows up with no knowledge of her birth parentage, traveling with the Sami as one of their own. Mona Mårtenson gives a boisterous, athletic performance as the grownup Laila, reminding me a bit of  Mary Pickford's inexhaustible energy in films like The Love Light (Frances Marion, 1921). She softens when she falls in love with Anders Lind, who runs a trading post the Sami visit during an annual market. But neither she nor Anders knows that they're really cousins -- his father and hers were brothers. Meanwhile, Aslag and his wife have been planning a marriage between Laila and Mellet, a foundling who had been taken in by the Laagjes even before Laila arrived. The rest of the film is a typical melodramatic stew of jealousy and prejudice: Norwegians, known to the Sami as "daro," don't marry Sami girls, Laila is told. There's a big Dramatic Moment when Laila is supposed to meet Anders at midnight by a cross-topped cairn, and when he fails to show (his father is dying and he can't leave the deathbed), she flings her arms out in a crucified pose. And there's a last-minute chase to reach the church after Laila agrees to marry Mellet: Jåmpa, who has always adored Laila, reveals to Anders her true parentage, and together they rush to tell her, only to be set upon by yet another wolf pack. Apparently, consanguinity is of less significance than intermarriage between Sami and daro, because Anders arrives in time to snatch his cousin Laila away from Mellet, who disappears in the general rejoicing. Even the conventional melodramatics, however, can't detract from the splendid documentary-like footage of life in the far northern mountains, the real reason to watch Laila.

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