Monday, October 08, 2018

Dunungen (1919) / In Quest of Happiness (2018 restoration Svenska Filminstitutet)

SE 1919.
regia/dir: Ivan Hedqvist.
scen: ?; dalla pièce del 1914 e dal racconto del 1894 di / based on the play (1914) and the short story (1894) by Selma Lagerlöf.
photog: J. Julius [Julius Jaenzon].
scg/des: Axel Esbensen.
cast: Renée Björling (Anne-Marie Ehinger, detta / called “Dunungen” [“Downy”]), Ivan Hedqvist (Teodor Fristedt), Ragnar Widestedt (Mauritz Fristedt, il figlio del sindaco/the mayor’s son), Carl Browallius (fornaio/baker Ehinger), Anna Wahlbom (mamma/mother Ehinger), Ernst Öberg (il sindaco/Mayor Fristedt), Mia Gründer (la moglie del sindaco/the mayor’s wife), Axel Nilsson (il giardiniere/the gardener), Mia Backman (Frida, la governante/the housekeeper), Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson (la madre di Teodor/Teodor’s mother), Sonja Looft (Elisabet Vestling), Maggan Larsson (sua sorella/her sister), Bror Öbergson (Borgström), Bertil Wallroth (Kolmodin).
prod: AB Svenska Biografteatern.
uscita/rel: 1.12.1919.
copia/copy: DCP, 95′ (da/from 35 mm, 2059 m [orig. 2698 m], 19 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: SWE.
fonte/source: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: Stephen Horne
    Viewed with e-subtitles in English and Italian at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (La sfida della Svezia / The Swedish Challenge 2), 8 Oct 2018.

Magnus Rosborn & Casper Tybjerg (GCM): "In a small Swedish town, the mayor’s son Mauritz falls in love with Anne-Marie, the daughter of a simple baker. (Her character’s nickname, “Dunungen”, literally means “a downy little bird”, but is also used to refer to someone innocent and inexperienced.)  Despite the difference in social status between their families, the engagement is soon announced. The “better” class of townsfolk, unremittingly snobbish, frown on the unconventional alliance, endangering the union. The young couple decide to seek support from Mauritz’s wealthy uncle Teodor, master of a great ironworks and a confirmed bachelor. During their stay at the uncle’s manor, Anne-Marie’s feelings gradually start to change as Mauritz neglects her in favor of his old childhood sweetheart Elisabet, the daughter of a neighboring squire. As her fiancée’s arrogance becomes more and more obvious to Anne-Marie, sympathy grows between her and the uncle."

"In Quest of Happiness was the first film Svenska Bio made after the 1917 change in production policy (to making fewer but more prestigious works) which was not directed by either Victor Sjöström or Mauritz Stiller. The choice to adapt yet another work by Nobel laureate Selma Lagerlöf to the screen accords with the new production orientation. The choice of Ivan Hedqvist as director, however, might seem surprising considering his limited film experience. During the summer of 1910 he had acted leading roles in a handful of productions shot by Svenska Bio, but after that he had remained faithful to the theatre. According to a 1918 fan publication about Hedqvist, he even prided himself on being an actor who, unlike some colleagues, “would not desert the theatre and his artistic calling for movie gold”."

"While Hedqvist lacked filmmaking experience, he had a deep knowledge of and familiarity with the literary source. Selma Lagerlöf’s tale “Dunungen” first appeared as a short story published in 1894, but was later adapted for the stage by the author herself. The play premiered at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm in 1914, with Hedqvist as Uncle Teodor – a part that became one of his signature roles and which he reprises in the film version. It is obvious when one compares Hedqvist’s film to the literary versions of the story that the director (and the uncredited and unknown screenwriter) brought a lot of the stage play into the film. Many of the film’s intertitles are direct reproductions of lines from the play, and the film keeps a number of characters that the stage version added to the more concise short story."

"In Quest of Happiness was well received and got uniformly good reviews at its premiere. It also proved to be successful abroad: Swedish trade journals reported on the film’s triumphs in various countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, France, and even the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), where the local censorship authorities praised the film. Hedqvist would direct three more films after this one, all featuring the actress Renée Björling in leading roles. He mainly worked in films as an actor, however, frequently playing – as he does in both In Quest of Happiness and Sjöström’s  Vem domer? (Love’s Crucible, 1922; shown in last year’s program) – an older man in love with a much younger woman."

"In Quest of Happiness is a charming film, but despite being one of the really successful “Golden Age” films of its time and a Lagerlöf adaptation to boot, it has remained largely overlooked in film historiography and screening practice. Unfortunately, the surviving version of the film is a severely abridged version that differs a lot from the original. The censors recorded the film’s length as 2698 metres at its premiere, but it was repeatedly re-edited and shortened; it was re-released in 1945 at only 1960 metres. The new restoration reconstructs the missing portions of the film with original text cards, production stills, and added explanatory titles."

"About the restoration: An acetate fine grain master with flash-titles made from the abridged camera negative (now lost) as well as a short tinted nitrate fragment from the collections of EYE Film Institute, were scanned by the Swedish Film Institute in 2018. Full-length intertitles were created from the original text cards and the tinting scheme was recreated based on the nitrate fragment and known sources from other contemporary films. Missing sequences were reconstructed."
Magnus Rosborn & Casper Tybjerg (GCM)

AA: The title Dunungen means "a cute and fluffy chick", but there seems to be no good concise expression in English. In Finnish the word is untuvainen / untuvikko, in Italian it is translated here as uccellino. I am sure there must be a term in Japanese. There is an affinity with Konrad Lorenz's Kinderschema (cuteness, gullighet).

Dunungen belongs to the most famous Swedish films of the Golden Age. However, it has not been widely screened in recent memory.

It starts as a charming romantic comedy and a satire of manners and pretense around a rich uncle's fortune. Nothing is what it seems, appearances are misleading.

Defying convention, Mauritz the mayor's son proposes to the baker's daughter Anne-Marie, "dunungen". But meeting his uncle, the coal mill magnate Teodor, Mauritz reveals his opportunistic side.

Teodor has become a confirmed bachelor perhaps due to a disillusionment in people's motives. But Teodor cannot resist falling in love with Anne-Marie who refuses to ingratiate. In her Teodor can glimpse a honest reflection, finally meeting his match.

The dunungen is a tender and naive creature but with an innate dignity and strength of character, beautifully conveyed by Renée Björling in the title role. Her radiation is exceptional. The director Ivan Hedqvist himself portrays the grumpy loner Teodor.

Beautiful location cinematography by Julius Jaenzon. The story is compact, the plot turns interesting. The mise-en-scène is impressive in the final coming to terms where looks and movements reveal new aspects of characters. Hedqvist has an eye for the expressive visual motif, such as the bowl of raspberries in the fifth reel. A film of many moods and modes: sunny comedy, generous humour, acerbic satire, bitter disillusionment, and wisdom of true love.

The disappointed Mauritz finally accuses Anne-Marie of being a fortune-hunter (lycksökerska). For Teodor, "you are not a fortune-hunter, you are a fortune-bringer".

Missing footage has been deftly covered by intertitles, explanations and a few stills.

The original art titles bring a special flavour to the film. The restoration is clean and beautiful. As usual, I would prefer less heavy tinting or glorious black and white.

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