Sunday, October 28, 2012

Anita Björk (1923-2012)

"Miss Julie - she's me" says Monica (Ellen Page) in Woody Allen's To Rome with Love. Monica is a young Hollywood actress who knows one line from every poem and who has an instant comment to every cultural reference.

But Anita Björk (*24 April 1923, †24 October 2012) was the one who had the true right to say "Miss Julie - she's me". This year is the centenary of the death of August Strindberg. Alf Sjöberg's Miss Julie (1951), starring Anita Björk, is the best film adaptation of Strindberg's work and one of the best literary adaptations of all times, which means that it is a genuinely cinematographic work on the same spiritual level as the original text. In my student days I made a scene by scene analysis of the movie and the play for the Film Society of the Tampere University Students' Union, and since then I have admired both the play and the movie even more.

The substance of Anita Björk's career was in the theatre, but she also played in the movies. As a Finn it is a pleasure to remember her superior performance as Kyllikki in the 1956 adaptation of the most-filmed Nordic novel, Johannes Linnankoski's The Song of the Scarlet Flower. All the five movie Kyllikkis have been very good, but Anita Björk was the definitive Kyllikki in an otherwise not very inspired movie adaptation. Olavi the Nordic Don Juan (in this adaptation perhaps inevitably played by Jarl Kulle), the wandering lumberjack and logroller, has been flying from flower to flower, but when he meets Kyllikki it's the end of his wandering days.

Anita Björk's last appearance in moving images was in Ingmar Bergman's television adaptation (2000) of Per Olov Enquist's play Bildmakarna / The Image Makers. She plays Selma Lagerlöf in the story about the making of The Phantom Carriage; it turns out that the story is profoundly personal both for the author and the director. For both, the story about the deranged alcoholic is the story of their father. Both had been forced as children to assume responsibility when the drunken father had threatened the family. The scene where Sjöström shows his film to Lagerlöf, and Lagerlöf, shattered by the shock of recognition, rises to touch the screen, is unforgettable.

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