Saturday, October 07, 2017

Morænen / The House of Shadows (1959 print DFI)

Morænen / The House of Shadows (DK 1924). Photo: Det Danske Filminstitut, København. Please click to enlarge the images.

Morænen / The House of Shadows (DK 1924). The triangle. Swein (Sigurd Langberg), Thora (Karina Bell), and Vasil (Emanuel Gregers). Photo: Det Danske Filminstitut, København.

Morænen / The House of Shadows (DK 1924). Swein (Sigurd Langberg) and his father Gudmund (Charles Wilken). Photo: Det Danske Filminstitut, København.

Morænen / The House of Shadows (DK 1924). Thora (Karina Bell) and Vasil (Emanuel Gregers). Photo: Det Danske Filminstitut, København.

Morænen / The House of Shadows (DK 1924). The finale: Thora (Karina Bell) plays the fatal tune. Photo: Det Danske Filminstitut, København.

Taivaan kosto / Himmelens hämnd / [La morena] / [The Moraine]. DK 1924. D: A. W. Sandberg, scen: Laurids Skands, photog: Louis Larsen, Chresten Jørgensen, des: Carlo Jacobsen, cast: Peter Nielsen (Thor Brekanæs, high sheriff), Karen Caspersen (Gunhild, his wife), Emanuel Gregers (Vasil Brekanæs), Peter Malberg (Aslak Brekanæs), Karina Bell (Thora, Thor’s god-daughter), Charles Wilken (Gudmund, tenant farmer), Sigurd Langberg (Swein Gudmundsson, his son), prod: Nordisk Films Kompagni, rel: 25.2.1924, 35 mm, 2346 m, 103 min (20 fps); titles: DAN, source: Det Danske Filminstitut, København.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: The Swedish Challenge.
    Music: Stephen Horne, Elizabeth-Jane Baldry.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2017.

Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg (GCM 2017): "In a dark and desolate part of northern Norway, the all-powerful local magnate is the harsh and unforgiving Thor Brekanæs. In a prologue, he learns that his wife has sought solace in the arms of another and that her son Vasil is not his, unlike the child she now bears. As soon as this child is born, he throws her out and urges her to kill herself, which she does. Twenty-five years later, Brekanæs still broods over his shame. The second son, Aslak, is an imbecile, cared for by Brekanæs’s young god-daughter Thora. Brekanæs has ordered her engagement to his protégé Swein, the son of a poor tenant farmer whom he has taken under his wing."

"Vasil returns, having dropped out of law school to become a poet. He and Thora have long been attracted to each other, and Vasil calls off the engagement. Brekanæs is enraged at the defiance of the bastard he has never accepted or cared for, but before he can act against Vasil, the old man is murdered, his head crushed with a rock in the desolate moraine valley where he goes to scream his rage. Vasil is immediately suspected of having slain the unforgiving patriarch."

"Among the films made in the early 1920s by the Nordisk company in Denmark, only a small number emphasized their “Nordicness”. The wild, mountainous setting of Morænen (British title: The House of Shadows) makes it an important exception, but it is of course set in northern Norway, not Denmark, and thus lacks the national frame found in films from the other Nordic countries. Although it deals with inheritance and intergenerational conflict, a common theme of Nordic rural dramas, it is also different because it does not have any literary prestige attached; it is an original screenplay, written by the prolific Laurids Skands (1885
1934), who was a professional writer of film scripts rather than an established novelist or playwright. Skands had collaborated with the director A. W. Sandberg (18871938) on a number of films, including the first three of Nordisk’s four Dickens films. Sandberg was very proud of his work on Morænen, which was hailed by the Danish press as one of the pinnacles of Danish film art (an estimation which now seems excessive), but the director’s promotion of his own efforts appears to have been the cause of a permanent rupture with Skands, his long-time collaborator."

"Comparable films from the neighbouring countries, where the Nordic landscape plays an important role, tend to present it with pride – infused with grandeur, vitality, and national character; but Morænen presents it as a bleak, dismal wasteland that oppresses the souls of its inhabitants. Only in “the lands of the sun” – Italy, presumably – can love, art, and the human spirit flourish. The intertitles repeatedly invoke the joyless and stony character of the sunless northern lands where the film is set, and the mise-en-scène supports this. Although Sandberg and his crew travelled to Norway to shoot the exteriors on location, much of the film takes place indoors, the dark timbers and small, often off-screen windows contributing to the claustrophobic atmosphere. Contemporary publicity claimed that the Brekanæs home was based on a real Norwegian house, carefully measured and copied by Nordisk’s brilliant set designer Carlo Jacobsen; but the house we see in the film, particularly the large central hall with its grand, steep staircase rising into the gloom, seems remarkably gothic in comparison with the low-ceilinged dwellings in other Nordic films. With its patriarchal oppression and murder-mystery plot, Morænen has a strongly melodramatic feel to it, and a piece of music does play a central role: it calms a madman, brings back redemptive memories of a long-lost mother, and resolves the plot. The piece is not specified in the film, but a list of the musical selections accompanying the film at the première survives, and it is likely that the piece used was the “Berceuse” (1904) of the Finnish composer Armas Järnefelt, who wrote the original score for Mauritz Stiller’s masterpiece Sången om den eldröda blomman / Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919)."

"The print was made by the Danish Film Museum in 1959 from the original negative, with new titles following the original title lists from Nordisk.
" Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg

AA: A dark and gloomy tragedy about a magnificent house in the far north of Norway where summers are short and winters are long.

In the prologue Gunhild gives birth to Aslak while her husband Thor is unforgiven and raging because he is not the father of their first son Vasil. Gunhild's only consolation is music, playing her beloved harp. After the birth of Aslak Gunhild commits suicide by throwing herself to the river.

25 years later it turns out that Aslak is mentally retarded and the bright Vasil is giving up his law studies, instead seeking a career as a writer, to his father's endless disappointment. In both sons, Thor sees Gunhild's posthumous revenge. Thor has also adopted a daughter, Thora, and taken into his protection Swein, the son of a poor tenant farmer. Thor wants to see Thora married to Swein before he dies. But Thora rejects Swein's abrupt proposal. "I'll never love you".

Vasil returns home although his father is not willing to meet him. "Such a flower in a place like this" says Vasil to Thora. "No one has ever spoken to me like that". Vasil confronts Swein about Thora. "I won't allow Thora to be buried alive with you". The engagement ring falls to the ground.

Thora would love to play Gunhild's harp, but Thor has strictly forbidden it. The curse of the Brekanæs is expressed by weird screams and groans at night at the nearby moraine. It is Thor yelling out loud there.

When Thora plays Gunhild's favourite tune Thor breaks the instrument. "As I smash this harp I will smash you". Swein is having second thoughts: "I'm not going to make her unhappy". "Is this how you thank me of dragging you of the gutter?" Thor takes off to the moraine to scream. Aslak hears Vasil saying he would wish father dead.

Soon it turns out that Thor lies murdered at the moraine. Vasil is arrested but when Swein confesses that Thor was already dead when he found him at the moraine he is himself taken to prison.

By the stream Thora hears Aslak confess: "I have sent father to sleep, just as the voices told me". Thora knows that there is one melody that makes Aslak almost normal again: "Now I can see myself for what I am. It seems mother came to me, as a dark shadow in the air", "The deep tones, they hurt me so".

A church visit is arranged for Aslak. Thora prays: "Will you speak to him through the sacred song?" Aslak relives the scene at the moraine. "Daddy, did the stone hit you? You are bleeding. Father, I have killed you". The voice from the fiord was mother's. "Father and mother smiling at me. Farewell, dear Thora. I'm so tired" says Aslak and dies.

Watching this movie I was not thinking about John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men but a little about Hans Alfredson's Den enfaldige mördaren (1980) and most importantly great Vatermord tragedies such as F. M. Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov in which all brothers have the opportunity and the motivation to kill their father. Certainly Thor is an almost mythical specimen of the atavistic, monstrous tyrant father figure against which sons must fight.

In certain ways The House of Shadows borders on horror, especially in the expressionistic use of the landscape. The house of gloom, the farm of the dark shadows is located in a valley in the middle of nowhere. The desolate moraine is a scene of anxiety, and the wild stream carries complex meanings of freedom and release: freedom of escape (for the young), but also a release from life itself (for Gunhild).

Based on a clue in the original playlist Stephen Horne (grand piano, accordeon) and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry (harp) played "Berceuse" by Armas Järnefelt (1867–1958) as the theme tune, heard during the prologue, in harp-playing sequences, and in the scene of the revelation. They did so with such passion and conviction that there was standing ovation after the screening.

This print of this dark film looks stuffy and heavily duped.

No comments: