Sunday, October 01, 2017

Synnöve Solbakken (1919) (2010 print)

Karin Molander (Synnöve Solbakken) and Ellen Dall (Ingrid Granliden, Thorbjörn's sister). Photo: Flickriver / European Film Star Postcards. Please click to enlarge the images.

Synnöve Solbakken (SE 1919). D: John W. Brunius. Thorbjörn Granliden (Lars Hanson) learning to work. Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.

Synnöve Solbakken (1919): a revival meeting of the Haugeans. Photo: Flickriver / European Film Star Postcards.

Synnöve gives Thorbjörn a Midsummer fan bird. Photo: Flickriver / European Film Star Postcards.

Thorbjörn's reconciliation with his rival Knud Nordhaug (Gösta Cederlund). Photo: Flickriver / European Film Star Postcards.

Synnöve Solbakken: filmskådespel i sju akter / Päivänrinteen Synnöve / A Norway Lass. SE 1919. D: John W. Brunius, scen: John W. Brunius, Sam Ask, photog: Hugo Edlund, Arthur Thorell, des: Gustaf Hallén.
    Cast: Karin Molander (Synnöve Solbakken), Lars Hanson (Thorbjörn Granliden), Egil Eide (Saemund Granliden), Svea Peters (Ingebjörg Granliden), Hjalmar Peters (Guttorm Solbakken), Ingrid Sandahl (Karen Solbakken), Einar Rød (Aslak), Ellen Dall (Ingrid Granliden), Gösta Cederlund (Knud Nordhaug).
    Prod: Filmindustri AB Skandia, rel: 20.10.1919.
copy: 35 mm, 2162 m (orig. 2235 m.), 95′ (20 fps); titles: SWE, source: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (The Swedish Challenge).
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Teatro Verdi, 1 Oct 2017.

Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg (GCM 2017): "Synnöve Solbakken and Thorbjörn Granliden are children from neighboring farms, one wealthier than the other. Despite the attempt of the devious farmhand Aslak to convince Thorbjörn that Synnöve is in league with the trolls, the two become friends. They grow older and fall in love. Synnöve’s parents belong to a very conservative denomination, and they find Thorbjörn unsuitable for her, especially since he has a reputation as a rowdy, and his rival Knud does what he can to get him into more trouble. At the midsummer celebration Synnöve makes Thorbjörn promise to change his ways. While Synnöve is up in the mountains working at her family’s summer pasture, however, the schemes of the evil Aslak will threaten both their love and Thorbjörn’s life."

"Synnöve Solbakken is one of two films based on works by the Norwegian Nobel Prize Laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson produced by Skandia in 1919 in order to compete with its rival Svenska Bio. Not only does the film fit well within the commonly used “Golden Age” criteria as a prestigious production based on an acclaimed literary work, but its filming on location (in the Gudbrand Valley in Norway) is extremely effective, creating an authentic atmosphere as well as playing an active role in the plot. Maybe this is not as clear as in the other Bjørnson film, A Dangerous Wooing (Ett farligt frieri, Rune Carlsten, 1919), where a mountain wall literally stands between the hero and the girl he loves, but in Synnöve Solbakken the landscape also separates Synnöve and Thorbjörn from each other during a critical part of the story."

"Compared to the other Brunius film presented in this program, Thora van Deken, Synnöve Solbakken (GB: A Norway Lass) relies on a more static tableau style. A possible explanation for Synnöve Solbakken’s different cinematic style may be found in Brunius’s visual inspiration from and recreation of paintings by the 19th-century Norwegian artist Adolph Tidemand. The most obvious example is found in the scene of the prayer meeting at Midsummer Eve, which is modelled in detail after Tidemand’s famous painting Haugianerne from 1848, but other scenes in the film also bear a close resemblance to Tidemand’s pictures."

"The direct recreation of famous paintings was a device Brunius would deploy again in his monumental historical films Karl XII (1925) and Gustaf Wasa (1928), in which he reproduced some of the best-known Swedish national romantic history paintings of the 19th century. While these later epic historical dramas impressed with the huge scale of their production, they are overlong and unimaginatively filmed, giving Brunius a partly undeserved poor reputation. His earlier films, both from the early years as Skandia’s main director and also those made after the formation of Svensk Filmindustri in 1920, prove him to be both talented and capable of mastering different genres. While both Synnöve Solbakken and Thora van Deken can be characterized as serious dramas, Brunius’s directorial debut, Mästerkatten i stövlar (“Puss in Boots”, 1918) is a witty comedy, with Gösta Ekman in the title role."

"Despite its title, the main focus of the film’s story (just as in Bjørnson’s novel) is not on Synnöve, but on Thorbjörn, portrayed by Lars Hanson. At the time of Synnöve Solbakken, Hanson was one of the most popular stars of Swedish cinema. Synnöve is played by Karin Molander, who today is better known as a comedienne in four surviving comedies by Mauritz Stiller, notably Erotikon (1920). Lars Hanson and Karin Molander married in 1922. Her film career essentially ended when she followed Hanson to Hollywood in the late 1920s, although she did later appear on stage in Sweden, and while he acted in several Swedish films after the transition to sound, she would appear in only one sound film, in 1954."

"The print: A duplicate negative, downsized to Academy ratio, was made from a nitrate positive source in 1981. In 2010 new intertitles made from text cards in the collection of the Swedish Film Institute were spliced into the negative, from which this viewing print was struck the same year." Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg

AA: It was a great pleasure to see at last Synnöve Solbakken. Although highly regarded in histories of the Swedish cinema, in recent decades it has not been screened much. Probably it has been neglected because it belongs to the Sjöström-Stiller school. Their presence has been so dominant that they have occupied the territory.

In Pordenone's 1986 Nordic retrospective Schiave bianche allo specchio the focus was on early cinema. In the 1999 retrospective Nordic Explorations the mission was to go outside the canon, also avoiding the rural mainstream, although a sidebar of well-known titles was added as an afterthought (and The Song of the Scarlet Flower was included because of the plan to perform the original score as a concert with a full orchestra). In 2000 there was a retrospective dedicated to Georg af Klercker, and in 2006 a Nordisk centenary retrospective. In 2013 discoveries were made of the rarely seen late Swedish silents by Gustaf Molander and his contemporaries.

Synnöve Solbakken is a key film of the Sweden golden age, based on a novel of the Nobel laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. The drama is based on tensions between two big farms. Granliden is in the shadow, and life there is driven by harsh discipline and hard work. Solbakken is literally on a sunny hill, a place of religious engagement to the tune of the Haugeans, a current or radical pietism.

Thorbjörn of Granliden is a young man of hot temper, the most fearsome fighter of the district. Since childhood he and Synnöve Solbakken have felt a mutual attraction. A memorable image is of Thorbjörn and Synnöve as children just staring at each other during church service, ignoring the surroundings.

The sense of landscape is based on the aesthetics of the sublime. The mornings at the mighty fjords, the bonfires of the Midsummer night (Sankt Hans in Norway), the midnight sun, the freedom at the summer pasture (sätern), and the wild mountains rivers are among the delights of the milieu.

Synnöve Solbakken is a Bildungsroman of Thorbjörn, parallel to The Song of Scarlet Flower in that the boy must grow up to a man before he is worthy of the leading lady. Thorbjörn has been growing up between a stern father and a good-for-nothing farmhand who is finally fired. The éducation sentimentale spans many years. Thorbjörn is banished from Solbakken, but Synnöve remains cold towards her many other suitors.

One day the lazy Thorbjörn starts to carry heavier loads than his father, but while he is driving his cart downhill his horses are scared by the deranged ex-farmhand, and the cart is broken. Visiting a wedding party to ask for help Thorbjörn is provoked to a fight and stabbed on the back by his rival Knud. Surviving from a nearly lethal wound Thorbjörn is not seeking for vengeance. Instead, he rises above the circumstances and volunteers reconciliation with Knud. All obstaclesnow overcome, Synnöve can finally accept Thorbjörn whom she has always loved.

There is a genuine and powerful emotional charge in the resolution.

During the narrative we observe a community in which one family is celebrating the joys of the Midsummer night while another family focuses on studying the Bible even on that special night.

An interesting feature is the prominence of illusions. Synnöve is introduced in the beginning as a children's fairytale figure. In different moments of the story we see mendacious and slanderous accounts as "filmed lies". Like in The Song of the Scarlet Flower there are needless flashbacks.

A memorable detail in the costume design is the peculiar cap worn by Thorbjörn and others. A significant motif is the elaborate Midsummer bird amulet carved from wood. (In Finland we know this decoration as the Karelian lastulintu, fan bird, a popular Christmas tree decoration. The elaborate feathers are not glued together but carved with a special woodwork technique). Given to Thorbjörn by Synnöve it becomes an emblem of the better angels of his nature.

The print is watchable, and it seems to have been created from uneven sources, ranging from good visual quality to low contrast.

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