Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo

Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo. The naivist comic strip by Rune Lindström provides a beautiful résumé of the movie. Please do click to enlarge!

Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo. Hanna (Ann-Marie Gyllenspetz) is welcomed by Gustaf (Max von Sydow) to his little parish.

Uddarbon pappi
    SE 1957. PC: Svenska AB Nordisk Tonefilm. P manager: Gösta Hammarbäck (produktionsledare). D: Kenne Fant. SC: Rune Lindström, Kenne Fant – based on the novel (1953) by Axel Hambræus  – translated into Finnish (Margareta Lehtonen / WSOY, 1955) as Uddarbon pappi: laulu ystävästä. DP: Max Wilén. AD: Bibi Lindström. Makeup: Eric Whiten. M: Ingvar Wieslander, Sven Sköld. Songs: ”Shall We Gather At The River” (Robert Lowry 1864). ”Välsignat är det hem förvisst” (Christoph Carl Ludwig von Pfeil 1746). S: Nils Skeppstedt. ED: Carl-Olov Skeppstedt. [Advisor: Ingmar Bergman, n.c.].
    C: Max von Sydow (Gustaf Ömark), Ann-Marie Gyllenspetz (Hanna, Teodor's niece), Anders Henrikson (Teodor, vicar of Allerö), Holger Löwenadler (director Alsing), Georg Rydeberg (docent Naaman), Erik Strandmark (Ris Erik Eriksson, chairman of the school council and the municipal government), Tord Stål (bishop of Västerås), Olof Thunberg (sexton Per Halvarsson), Maud Elfsiö (Inger), Björn Berglund (chairman of the free church district), Georg Adelly (shop clerk), Gudrun Brost (Albertina, known as Gäs-Fröken).
    Loc: Bäsna-Sifferbo ferry port (Gagnef), Stockholm archipelago, Uppsala, Västerås Cathedral.
    Helsinki premiere: 24.4.1959 Adlon, distributor: Allotria Filmi Oy – telecast in Finland: 9.2.1970 Yle TV2 – VET 50158 – S – 2515 m / 92 min
    A vintage KAVI print deposited by Allotria Filmi with Finnish subtitles by Eila Seppänen screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ingmar Bergman 100), (Films for Easter), Ascension Day, Thursday 28 March 2018

The Minister of Uddarbo, the novel written by the Swedish priest Axel Hambræus, has been compared with both Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo and Georges Bernanos's Journal d'un curé de campagne, all portraits of country priests, all memorably filmed.

I read the novel while I was in the army in 1973 and had long been looking forward to see this film. Watching it I was also thinking about the account of Vincent van Gogh's early years as a preacher in Vincente Minnelli's film adaptation of Lust for Life (1956) made the year before. The passion of his calling, his unconditional identification with the poor and downtrodded and the abyss separating him from pharisean directors and doctors are identical.

The Minister of Uddarbo also belongs to a major Swedish tradition of rural films which had been launched on a high artistic level by Victor Sjöström and his colleagues in the 1910s. In the 1950s it was still possible to catch an authentic feeling of the traditional flow of life on the countryside. Last month we screened Ivar Johansson's engrossing Livet i Finnskogarna / Life in the Finn Woods (1947) starring none other than Kenne Fant, the director of The Minister of Uddarbo. Some of the rural films of the 1950s were already slipping into pastiche but The Minister of Uddarbo is full of conviction and vitality.

We included the film in our Ingmar Bergman centenary tribute because Bergman served as an advisor and because the leading role was played by Max von Sydow in 1957, a golden year for both Bergman and von Sydow. The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries had their premieres, as well as the most magnificent theatre production in Swedish theatrical history, Peer Gynt at Malmö City Theatre, directed by Bergman and starring von Sydow. It is a beautiful aspect in Bergman's life that he was always happy to advise and support others generously, even during this, his busiest year.

As Gustaf Ömark, the minister of Uddarbo, von Sydow gives a sterling performance, no less powerful than his roles for Bergman. We meet him as an awkward stranger, a tongue-tied man in love, a passionate and charismatic (but not fanatical) preacher, a dock worker, a teacher with a way with children, a loving husband, and a good shepherd of his congregation. We also see him disappointed, tormented by agony and experiencing a loss of faith. We see him lose his mental balance and ending up in a mental hospital. We see him face death and birth. We see him coming to terms with his own mortal illness. There is an aura of holy madness in him, and at the same time he is an ordinary guy with no time for empty rhetoric. His faith in the gospel is genuine and internal. He believes in the miracle of faith: a person can be transformed by opening up to the spiritual sources inside.

He has an original approach to the Scripture. His first sermon is about the five loaves and the two fish. For him what is meant is spiritual nourishment: when that is achieved there will be enough for everybody.

In his school class he takes children to plant flowers and trees in the school garden. Then he proceeds to the Parable of the Sower. Some seed falls on rocky ground, but when it falls on good soil it yields a hundredfold. [Let's also remember The Sower by Vincent van Gogh].

He makes the Word come alive. Max von Sydow's is a major performance among depictions of Christ's followers in the cinema.

By the example of his conviction Gustaf engages the inhabitants of the poor village into communal work [bee / talkoot / talko / talgud / tолока / tłoka: there is a distinctive tradition in Nordic and Baltic countries, and Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus. Together it is possible to achieve miracles]. First they build a bridge over a mighty river. Then they build a church in the village which is missing in many necessities. It is an act of faith.

Bengt Idestam-Almqvist, a major Swedish film critic and historian, was positively surprised by the achievement of The Minister of Uddarbo: the warmth, the sense of humour, the devotion of Max von Sydow, and the achievement of the director Kenne Fant without a false note. Idestam-Almqvist found the film both serious and humoristic, big fun and deeply gripping. He found the entire ensemble fully committed to this engaging picture.

I agree. I also like Max Wilén's cinematography, his beautiful composition in depth. (He had shot Strindberg's Hemsöborna, among others, and he would shoot Brink of Life for Bergman. And The Language of Love later, in hard, clinical light, like Brink of Life. But his pastoral sense here is engaging.) And the score by Ingvar Wieslander and Sven Sköld. In the ensemble also the children are genuine, as is the orphan teenage girl (played by Maud Elfsiö) whom Gustaf rescues from becoming a plaything for lumberjacks. Gustaf's love affair and marriage with Hanna (Ann-Marie Gyllenspetz) is conveyed with beautiful conviction.

The scale of grandeur is not the same, but there is an affinity with Andrei Rublev in the final section of the film about building the church and installing a church bell. In his last moments Gustaf hears the sound of the bell. "Hör du?" – "Can you hear?" are his last words.

The Minister of Uddarbo was a traditional film in a period when major masterpieces dealed with modern secularization and the loss of faith. Luis Buñuel's Nazarín was released in 1959. Soon after Bergman would make Winter Light / Nattvardsgästerna which we are also screening this week. The Minister of Uddarbo shows the building of a rural church. Winter Light shows the church becoming empty. Max von Sydow appears in both: in Winter Light he plays the role of the fisherman Jonas agonized by the horror of nuclear holocaust and committing suicide in a world abandoned by God.

If I had to illustrate Nordic Protestantism to a foreigner, The Minister of Uddarbo would be a good alternative: plain and uncluttered, focusing on the force of the spirit, and a sense of love, caring, and community. It is about the roots of the Nordic welfare society in which nobody is abandoned. It is about the secret why Nordic countries tend to rate well in polls of happiness.

The vintage print still radiates with magic and robust health, having been struck directly from the original negative. No matter that there are joins and scratches at the heads and tails of reels.


Axel Hambræusin (1890–1983) romaani Uddarbon pappi ilmestyi vuonna 1953. Sen päähenkilöllä on esikuva todellisuudessa, Oscar Leonard Sjödin (1878–1947), joka syntyi Ytterlännäsissä Ån-germanlandissa ja oli nuoruudessaan tukkilainen. Käytyään vapaakirkollisen saarnaajakoulun ja palveltuaan Östergötlandissa ja Tukholman saaristossa hän tunsi vetoa Ruotsin kirkkoon. Hän halusi papiksi. Västeråsin piispa Nils Lövgren auttoi häntä opinnoissa, jotka Sjödin läpäisi rimaa hipoen, ja siten hänet voitiin vihkiä papiksi erivapaudella. Malungin kirkkoherrana vuosina 1930–1936 Hambræus tuli yhteistyöhön Sjödinin kanssa, joka oli tuolloin kappalaisena Malungsforsissa. Hambræusin avulla Sjödin ajoi kirkon rakennushanketta, ja vuonna 1936 kirkko oli valmis.
    Suosikkiromaanin pohjalta syntyi viihdyttävä, koskettava elokuva, jonka pääroolissa Max von Sydow teki vaikutuksen – tämä oli yleistettynä Uddarbon papin saama vastaanotto.
    Ruotsin huomattavimpiin kriitikoihin kuuluva Bengt Idestam-Almqvist (Robin Hood) kirjoitti Stockholms-Tidningenissä: ”Uddarbon papin filmatisointi on kaunis yllätys. Että kirjailija Axel Hambræus, joka on itse pappi, on rikkaiden kokemustensa pohjalta löytänyt näin omaperäisen ihmi-sen, uskovaisen voimamiehen Gustaf Ödmarkin ja kuvannut häntä lämmöllä ja huumorilta, on vä-hemmän hämmästyttävää. Mutta että moderni näyttelijä Max von Sydow ruumiillistaa häntä näin antaumuksellisesti ja että nuori ohjaaja Kenne Fant luo hänen elokuvallisen ylistyslaulunsa ilman väärää nuottia on ihme.”
    ”Puhe ruotsalaisten maallistumisesta lienee ennenaikaista, kun näin suuri näyttelijäkunta on näin täydellä sydämellä antautunut tällaiseen aihepiiriin ja tekee sen näin luontevasti. Elokuva ei ole vain hyvä – se on Fantin ehdottomasti paras saavutus – vaan myös repäisevän hauska ja loppuun asti kouraiseva. Huumori ja uskonnollinen vakavuus yhdistyvät elokuvassa yhtä hienosti kuin papin henkilöhahmossa itsessään.”
    ”Max von Sydowin osasuoritus on suuren mittaluokan saavutus. Yhdysvalloissa puhuttaisiin Os-carista. Mutta muutkin ovat hyviä. Suloinen Ann-Marie Gyllenspetz, kirkkovahtimestari Olof Thunberg, piispa Tord Stål, kirkkoherra Anders Henrikson. Kaiken kaikkiaan – Wilénin kuvaus, lavastajan miljöökuvaus – teeskentelemätön, harmoninen, rauhallisesti virtaava Uddarbon pappi on komistus elokuvatuotannossamme. Harvinainen mutta kaunis lintu”.
    Haastattelussa Torsten Jungstedtin kanssa (Röster i Radio/TV n:o 21/1976) Kenne Fant kertoi, että Ingmar Bergman toi käsikirjoitukseen panoksen ilman tekijämainintaa. Bergman luki romaanin neuvoi lisäämään miljöökuvausta. ”Ingmar oli yleensäkin aina äärimmäisen avulias muille ohjaajille, ja hän käytti paljon aikaansa sellaiseen, mistä hän ei saanut rahaa tai hyvitystä”.

AA (lähde: Svensk filmografi / Svensk filmdatabas) 27.3.2018. – Uddarbon pappia on verrattu sekä Don Ca-milloon että Papin päiväkirjaan.

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