Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Hans engelska fru / Matrimony / Discord / [His English Wife]

HANS ENGELSKA FRU (Hänen englantilainen rouvansa / GB: Matrimony / US: Discord) [La moglie inglese] (AB Isepa / Wengeroff-Film, SE/DE 1927) D: Gustaf Molander; SC: Paul Merzbach; DP: J. Julius [Julius Jaenzon], Åke Dahlqvist; C: Lil Dagover (Cathleen Paget, la vedova/a widow), Urho Somersalmi (Birger Holm, il possidente/a landowner), Gösta Ekman (Ivor Willington), Karin Swanström (Mrs. Brock, la madre di Cathleen/Cathleen’s mother), Håkan Westergren (Bruce Brock), Brita Appelgren (Poppy Brock), Stina Berg (Antje), Margit Manstad (Faucigny); 35 mm, 2621 m, 128' (18 fps); print source: Filmarkivet vid Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm. Swedish intertitles. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano: Antonio Coppola, 8 Oct 2013

Jon Wengström: "In 1926 AB Svensk Filmindustri, aspiring to make films with an urban, contemporary touch and with foreign stars in the cast, formed an entity for international co-productions called AB Isepa. Scriptwriter and producer Oscar Hemberg was appointed head of this company, and AB Isepa co-produced six films in the years 1926-28, mainly in collaboration with German and British studios."

"Hans engelska fru (British title Matrimony; released in the US as Discord) epitomizes the ambivalence, not to say schizophrenia, of the studio’s production policy at the time. Part of the film is set among high society in London, with German actress Lil Dagover as a widow once more attending dinner parties and charity events, while the rest is set in the countryside of northern Sweden, where Finnish actor Urho Somersalmi (most renowned for his performance as the stranger in Stiller’s Johan) portrays a rich landowner who also happens to be the main creditor of her family’s fortune. One minute we see elaborate studio settings depicting the Savoy or the elegant interiors of upper-class apartments, giving Dagover a chance to sport one elegant evening gown after another, and the next we are among the forests and streams of rural Sweden, where at one point we are even presented with a daring river-ride, akin to classic scenes in Golden Age films such as Stiller’s Sången om den eldröda blomman (Song of the Scarlet Flower, 1919) and Johan (1921). The ambivalence of the production is nicely reflected in the way Dagover’s character is torn between the two very different lives she must choose between, foreign urbanity and rural Sweden."

"Hailed at the time of its release as a promise of something radically different, and a new path for Swedish cinema (“on a par with anything coming out of Hollywood”, as one critic put it), the film has traditionally been discarded by most historians as an example of pure speculation and an indication of the downfall of Swedish cinema in the latter half of the 1920s, which has meant that it has been sadly neglected. Though its duality at times threatens to implode the film, it is always highly interesting, with beautiful cinematography by Julius Jaenzon and Åke Dahlqvist, and there are several examples of nice directorial touches by Molander, not least in the visualizing of a radio broadcast."

"As one of Dagover’s London admirers we see Gösta Ekman, making his first appearance back in Sweden after having played the title roles in Murnau’s Faust (1926) and Sandberg’s Klovnen (The Clown, 1926)."

"The Print. Viewing prints were struck from a duplicate negative made in the 1960s from a positive nitrate source. The film’s rights-holder, AB Svensk Filmindustri, deposited this print with the archive in 1994." Jon Wengström

AA: There are interesting themes, scenes and currents in this uneven and uncertain film which has a general approach of trivial entertainment due to the banal screenplay, yet the intelligent director and his actors convey something more profound regardless of the often tired script.

Lil Dagover is very good as the widow who has married for money and has never experienced the true passion of a normal, healthy, grown-up woman. She is surrounded by trivial pleasure-seekers, "all these indifferent people", and the family fortune which had been accumulated during a century has now been wasted away in a year.

The journey now goes from the fun-filled, trivial London to the rugged, atavistic North Sweden, "högt uppe i nordligaste Sverige". We see epic views from a lumbercamp and a log chute. The lumberjacks are sorting out a big logjam. Lil Dagover and her friends stop for a walk on the other side of the roaring river. Urho Somersalmi tries to warn Lil that it's not terra firma, but she slips and falls to the river. There is mortal danger. Urho grabs a boat and navigates to save Lil.

Dangerous waterfalls scenes are a familiar hallmark of Nordic cinema, and this sequence is the most terrific of all I have seen.

Urho saves Lil and brings her to his cabin and puts her to bed. There are humoristic touches when the bashful Urho needs to tear off her drenched city clothes. When Lil wakes up she is furious when she finds out she's naked. In a beautiful scene Urho serves her a hot drink. (Qf. James Stewart rescuing Kim Novak in Vertigo.)

There is a charming theme of the playful affection between Poppy the teenage girl and Urho. Poppy has a teenage crush on Urho, which he does not recognize, or decides to ignore.

Urho and Lil get married, but the everyday life is full of tedium in the dark winter of the North. Lil returns to London. From a letter Urho finds out that it was all for the money. The furious Urho goes to London for divorce. A Lady Godiva scene in a tableau vivant is the last straw.

The sense of alienation is overwhelming. But in a funny and surprising turn Urho is travelling from the North and stopping at a station and discovering Lil on her own northbound train, stopping at the same station. Neither of them boards their train. They get a good laugh from the reactions at the station.

Qf. En lektion i kärlek. Qf. Vihreä kulta / Green Gold.

Urho Somersalmi was the leading heroic actor of the National Theatre of Finland, famous for his interpretations in plays ranging from Chekhov to Shakespeare, as well creating the definitive interpretation as the original lumberjack hero of Teuvo Pakkala's musical comedy Tukkijoella / Log River (1899) in the National Theatre. Somersalmi was a schoolmate of Mauritz Stiller who brought him to the lumberjack role of his masterpiece Johan and even asked him to follow him to Hollywood.

A fine print with just slightly duped a look.

HANS ENGELSKA FRU (SE/DE 1927). Gustaf Molander. Urho Somersalmi, Lil Dagover. Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm © 1927 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All rights reserved.
Gustaf Molander instructing Lil Dagover and Urho Somersalmi during the shooting. Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm © 1927 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All rights reserved.

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