Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Laila: George Schneevoigt

One of the glories of Scandinavian silent cinema, setting it apart from the rest of fledgling European production, was its use of natural landscape settings - some of the most spectacular in the world - which, coupled with a literary tradition based on the Nordic sagas, lent itself to epic filmmaking of the purest kind. Norwegian cinema more or less bowed out of the silent period in 1929 with 'Laila', a splendidly sprawling adventure of the frozen Far North, replete with reindeer, wolves, Lapps and ice-melting passions. Ranged across several generations, the story begins with a wealthy merchant, Lind, and his wife travelling in the coldest depths of winter to christen their baby daughter. Attacked by wolves, they lose the baby, which is founf by the lapp Jaampa (a deminating performance by Tryggve Larssen) and subsequently raised by a rich reindeer herder, Aslag Laagie. Thus the saga begings...George Schneevoigt, a noted Danish-German cinematographer who had shot four of Carl Dreyer's films, was hired to direct his own script, on the strength of his camerawork a year earlier on Ragnar Westfelt's
'Viddenes folk (People of the Tundra), a similar tale. A successful director of talkies, he hemled a sound remake of 'Laila' on 1937. The re-emergence of the silent 'Laila', for decades treated risibly through being shown at the wrong speed, is the result of expert restoration work by the Norwegian Film Institute at the Norwegian NationalLibrary, producing a speed-adjusted print to give the film a long and flexible new life.

MGP: A delight. Not only was the frequent use of location shots of the north of Norway interesting, it certainly added to the effectiveness of the film which had a relatively straightforward story. A baby girl is lost, rescued from wolves by a Lapp and raised by the senior member of the tribe until he discovers when the child is a year old that her parents are alive. Returned to them, she is then orphaned when the settlement is stricken with the plague and agin save by the Lapps where she is raised to become a lovely tomboyish girl of marriageable age. On a trip to sell furs with her 'father', she meets the son of the trader and his sister who take her under their wing though she does not know that they are actually her cousins. She falls in love and agrees to run away with him but on the eve of their elopement his father dies and she is left thinking he has changed his mind. She agrees to marry her 'father's son but at the very last minute, ik.e. midway through the wedding, her lover turns up and all ends happily. Well acted and excellently filmed with several interesting shots, e.g. the galloping hooves of the reindeer pulling the sledge when they are fleeing from wolves and the tiver rescue; allowing for its being 10 years younger than 'J'accuse' so having the benefit of imrpoved equipment this was the most satisfying of the three silents.

1 comment:

pppatty said...

Apologies again for wimping out and not going to see this with you. You certainly make it sound a worthwhile view, but you know me and my physical inability to sit happily through long, long films (especially silent Norwegian ones???)