Thursday, October 06, 2011

Klostret i Sendomir / The Secret of the Monastery

Sendomirin luostari / Elga [Il monastero di Sendomir] (AB Svenska Biografteatern, SE 1920) D+SC: Victor Sjöström; based on the story “Das Kloster bei Sendomir” by Franz Grillparzer; DP: Henrik Jaenzon; cast: Tore Svennberg, Tora Teje, Richard Lund, Renée Björling, Albrecht Schmidt, Gun Robertson; 35 mm, 1552 m, 80’ (17 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet method); from: Filmarkivet vid Svenska Filminstitutet / Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm. Svenska mellantexter. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 6 Oct 2011.

Jan Olsson (GCM Catalogue): "As Victor Sjöström’s Klostret i Sendomir opened on New Year’s Day 1920, the two factions of film production in Sweden, Svenska Biografteatern (Swedish Biograph) and Skandia, had merged into Svensk Filmindustri (SF) less than a week before. Having outgrown the facilities at Lidingö where the film was shot, Swedish Biograph was still in the midst of building its new studio at Råsunda, which opened in May and would serve as the home for SF’s productions for many decades to come. This consolidation also ushered in big-business control of the future of the film industry in Sweden, as Ivar Kreuger, the Match King, emerged as the dominating financier behind SF. Based on Franz Grillparzer’s novella and later adapted into a play (Elga) by Gerhard von Hauptmann, Klostret i Sendomir is somewhat of an anomaly during a time when Swedish Biograph almost exclusively pivoted its brand of filmmaking on literary material from the Nordic countries. Unlike the acknowledged masterpieces of previous years (Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru and Herr Arnes pengar, among others), the film does not situate its drama against the backdrop of nature and its dire challenges. Instead, the conflict is placed in a pressure chamber of sorts, which cracks as forces from outside unbalance the rural castle’s sealed-off world and emotional dynamics. Thick as they are, the walls cannot block out what once was. The world inside the castle is dark, night scenes prevail, and what we learn in hindsight is via a framing story, related in another building, the monastery, which, however, is built on top of the ruins of the castle, enclosing its remnants in more than one sense. The humble monk’s storytelling is the currency between now and then, the castle and the monastery, and ultimately between his two incarnations, as Count Starschensky turned Brother. The Count was consumed in a drama of love, hope, jealousy, deceit, and crushed illusions, all swirling around a child’s innocent but ultimately revealing curls."

"The shooting of the film posed major photographic challenges due to the production’s minimalist stance, featuring a very small cast, almost exclusively in interior scenes in confined spaces. Furthermore, it is night throughout, and thus light is limited. The tempo of this period piece is slow, and the film is orchestrated as a gradual deconstruction of the storyteller’s happiness as suspicions emerge, are confirmed, and climax in a series of tragic choices in the face of disaster."

"The night scenes and the play with natural light sources are exquisite, and Henrik Jaenzon’s photography shows his mastery in overcoming the obstacles involved in the shooting. The critics consistently praised the film in this respect. Another constant was the esteem accorded Tore Svennberg’s performance as Count Starschensky, but the reviews were otherwise mixed in Sweden. For some, Hauptmann’s concentrated story was over-succinct in its screen adaptation (devised by Sjöström) and lacking a psychological context for the wife Elga’s infidelity, or her dual love. For others, the drama was mired in melodrama. Commercially, the film apparently had its best run in France. The highest French accolade came from Louis Gaumont, Léon’s son, in a 1923 interview. Asked which Swedish films had enjoyed the best French following, he mentioned Dunungen, Herr Arnes pengar, and, foremost, Klostret i Sendomir: “The story in that film offers precisely what the French audience appreciates, while Körkarlen was ‘trop violent, trop fort’.” The film was never a favourite among film historians; Jean Béranger is perhaps the most appreciative, in his 1960 volume on Swedish cinema. Swedish film historians still praise its photography, but otherwise the film is consistently mentioned only in passing. The most negative evaluation is Bengt Forslund’s in his monograph on Victor Sjöström, which has been transferred to the entry on the film in the Svensk filmografi. Unlike most Swedish films from this era, the restored copy is virtually complete. Today we might want to rethink this film’s place in the “big adventure of Swedish cinema”, as Béranger called it." – Jan Olsson

Jon Wengström: "Until the recent restoration of Klostret i Sendomir, prints from the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute were only available in black-and-white, struck from a downsized Academy aspect ratio duplicate negative. In the collections there was however a second, full-frame duplicate negative, once made from the same nitrate print source. The flash-titles in this second negative were in 2009 replaced by full-length titles, recreated from original title cards in the library collection of the Swedish Film Institute. Some additional image material was duplicated from a third-generation nitrate colour print with Czech intertitles held by the Národní Filmový Archiv in Prague, and from an incomplete first-generation tinted nitrate print with French intertitles from the Cinémathèque Suisse in Lausanne. The Swiss print also provided the colour reference for the Desmet print which was struck from the restored negative in 2009. Klostret i Sendomir is not one of director Sjöström’s more famous films today, but at the time it was one of his most successful. A huge box-office hit, it was sold to more than 50 countries. Its international setting, combined with the success of Stiller’s Erotikon the same year, paved the way for a change in Svensk Filmindustri’s production policy, towards films with – as they thought – more international appeal. It’s also a very interesting film graphically, with the main geometrical figure being the arca. Compositionally, the arc often forms a frame within the frame, creating patterns that underline the location’s seclusion and the claustrophobia of this story of clandestine love, feelings that are enhanced now that the tints have been reintroduced. Making her screen debut is legendary stage and screen actress Tora Teje (Erotikon, Häxan, Norrtullsligan), who creates a very moving portrayal of a woman torn between her family and the man she loves, a theme that Sjöström would return to (again in a historical setting) a couple of years later in Vem dömer – (1922)." – Jon Wengström

AA: Revisited, sampled a visually beautiful film shot by the master Henrik Jaenzon. It has gone through the best possible restoration. I have seen several different prints of this movie, including our own coloured nitrate print called Elga. Here the Desmet colour is used also in dark blue tinting (in the beginning and in the end, for instance), and the print should maybe be projected with brighter lamps.

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