Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Valkoinen peura (1952)

... aka: Noidan rakkaus
... aka: Noita
... aka: White Reindeer, The

Directed by:
Erik Blomberg

Plot-wise, this is a familiar tale, but whatever shortcomings are present in the writing are almost entirely overcome by the striking visual presentation and a highly unique setting and atmosphere you won't see in any other genre film. Set in a desolate, mountainous area of Lapland, The White Reindeer paints a fascination portrait of what people do to survive in an extremely harsh climate while also delivering a less-compelling, though still interesting, supernatural horror story. Villagers who live in this area are greatly dependant on the reindeer population to meet their needs and live side-by-side with the animals. Reindeer are not only their primary food source, but they're also used for transportation and for entertainment, with villagers holding races where reindeer pull their sleds down icy tracks. Much like in other cultures throughout the world and ages, the animals are held in such high regard because they're essential to life itself. So important, they've even been integrated into the villager's spiritual beliefs. There's a shrine built in their honor right in front of a graveyard where the skeletons and antlers of reindeer past rest.

Things center around Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen), a young woman born of a witch. Though she's oblivious about her past and was (presumably) adopted by another family as an infant, her subconscious ends up drawing her over to the dark side anyway whenever things don't go her way. Pirita marries Aslak (Kalervo Nissilä). Like many men in the region, Aslak is a shepherd whose job is to lasso and then wrestle down reindeer to add to the village's large herd. He's gone for weeks at a time and, a result of the hard work, isn't always attentive to his new wife's needs. Frustrated by her situation, Pirita goes to see Tsalkku-Nilla (Arvo Lehesmaa), a seer / shaman who lives outside the village in a little shack and brags about being able to bring the dead back to life. He makes a love potion for her from special herbs, death mold and the testicles of ten deer. As part of the agreement, Pirita must sacrifice to the great altar the first living thing she comes across after she leaves his cottage. After completing her task, she'll be irresistible to any man who lays eyes upon her... but not quite in the way she was expecting.

Pirita ends up sacrificing a baby deer her husband had given to her as a gift and for good luck. Afterward, she occasionally transforms into a snow-white reindeer that the men in the area feel compelled to capture because of its rarity. Pirita then leads them down into an area called Demon's Valley, reverts back into human form and kills them. Aside from withcraft, this also incorporates elements from lycanthropy and vampirism into its mythology. Though she's never seen feeding on blood, Pirita does sport fangs. She also seems to only transform during full moons and must eventually be killed with a spear fashioned from a particular metal. It's usually silver in werewolf tales, but here it's cold iron.

This film respects and worships its locations just as the villagers respect and worship their reindeer. There are numerous striking long shots of the empty horizon, the sun setting or rising, trees dotting the landscape above a deep blanket of white and winds constantly shifting the top layer of snow giving the landscape an appearance of continual change and subtle instability (an effect also well-utilized in the Japanese classic WOMAN IN THE DUNES [1964]; though they used sand there). There's a definite silent film feel to the proceedings. It has very little dialogue, exaggerated facial expressions from the actors and expressionistic lighting with characters cast in and out of shadow. Perhaps the most successful aspect is its ambience and evocation of time and place. I've not seen this way of life depicted elsewhere and just watching the people go about their daily lives in these particular surroundings is pretty fascinating to watch. Moreso than the fantasy content, really.

Director Blomberg also (superbly) photographed the film and co-wrote the script with the lead actress. Never officially released in America on a home viewing format, this was one of the only genre films of its year and remains the only Finnish film to take home a Golden Globe (for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957). It also took home awards at Cannes and several others in its homeland.



Unknown said...

Any idea on where I could watch this? Thanks in advance.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

It used to be on Youtube with English subs but I just went to look for it and now it appears to be gone. Maybe it'll pop back up on there again. I got my subbed DVD-R through a trade.

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