Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

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Cold Grimm Fairy-Tale: Witchcraft in Lapland (Finland)

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen #3)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

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Valkoinen Peura (Den Vitan Renen/Noidan Rakkaus/The White Reindeer) (1952) ***** PG

Mirjami Kuosmanen: Pirita, the Daughter/Maarita, the Mother

Kalervo Nissila: Aslak, Pirita’s Husband, a Hunter

Ake Lindman: The Forest Ranger

Jouni Tapiola: A Reindeer Shepard

Arvo Lehesmaa: Tsalkku-Nilla, the Shaman

Written by: Mirjami Kuosmanen & Erik Blomberg (inspired by Finnish Folklore)

Photographed & Directed by: Erik Blomberg

Synopsis: A young newlywed from the Hill People of Finland goes to the local Shaman for help in keeping her hunter husband at home. Unbeknownst to her, her late mother was a powerful witch and the imbalance of white and dark magic make the Shaman’s spell turn her into a being that takes the form of a pure White Reindeer.

Image result for the white reindeer 1952

Finnish cinematographer Erik Blomberg got his directorial debut with this dark fairytale inspired by the many folklore legends of the Lapland. Having knowledge, respect, and interest in the lives of Reindeer Farmers and Herders in the mountains and hills of his native land, Blomberg uses the harshness and beauty of the landscape to weave his tale of love, hate, and repression at a time when the world was changing, and the once unmovable ways of certain groups began to crumble Intermixing classic elements of Fantasy and Horror, as well as social issues such as male-female relationships, Blomberg and star Mirjami Kuosmanen crafted an entertaining, poignant, and sad film that blends both genre filmmaking art house cinema verité into a fine mixture.

Image result for the white reindeer 1952

One interesting thing that cowriters Blomberg and Kuosmanen pull off with the script is the usage of witchcraft, curses, and animals as metaphors for gender relationships and repressed sexuality. Because so many countries in Europe, and even good parts of the United States, were viewed as very much patriarchal in how things were done, anyone, especially a woman, defy the conventions and normalcy of the times would’ve been chaotic and controversial, upsetting what was thought of as the status quo. The lead female character is very different from others in her society and because she begins to want her husband at home, and not be away all the time hunting, neglecting the vows they took, she seems to be going against what her people have done for centuries. That witchcraft symbolizes female empowerment and wiles is no surprise, and in the film used to show the protagonist trying to fix things with her husband. Her turning into a creature that drinks the blood of men, using the form of a reindeer to lure the victims to her, is the price and revenge for her being unique, and also for her wanting to flaunt her sexuality to make her husband jealous.

Image result for the white reindeer 1952

Religion also plays a small role in these events. While it’s never stated specifically what year the film is set in, the majority of the reindeer herding community seem to practice a form of Christianity, while some like the Shaman still cling to the Pagan belief of a deer god. Even with the idea that Pirita turns her back on Christianity in favor of Old World spells and incantations existing as part of the film’s structure, that it makes up a good chunk of her suffering is going a little too far. The locals still believe in a good bit of the old legends, so the new religion hasn’t completely obliterated their old ways, or that even before the Christian faith came along witches were already seen as people to avoid and be wary of.

Image result for the white reindeer 1952

Image result for the white reindeer 1952

Mirjami Kousmenen gives probably the most unique performance in the film, partially due to her co-authoring the screenplay. Pirita is by all accounts a typical Finnish woman of the period, who can ride, hunt, and do most things her male counterparts can do. When she finally gets to marry her childhood sweetheart, it looks like she finally has everything she could ask for. Soon, she realizes her husband cares more for the excitement of the life of a reindeer herder and hunter than being at home with her. Desperate for the affection she needs as a wife and partner, Pirita seeks out the local Shaman for help. The Shaman soon becomes terrified of her, realizing her family has witchcraft heritage. This regression of both her sexuality and place in society leads to horrible consequences for Pirita as she finds herself slowly turning into a bloodthirsty monster who lures to their deaths in the form of a white reindeer, and slowly causes her to lose her mind. Clearly not wanting, or even expecting the results the ultimately occur, Pirita can only hope for a miracle of deliverance from her hellish existence.

Image result for the white reindeer 1952

Moody, charming, fantastical, and tragic, Valkoinen Peura is a well made throwback to the kind of tales written by the Brothers Grimm. The characters come off as real people, and even the fantastical events seem like they could happen. The parallels between real life issues and the fantasy it was always intended to be seen as are weaved well together, creating a homogenous mixture that works well. Basic and to the point, the film tells quite a bit in its short run time and packs a fine wallop and surprise.

(I highly, highly recommend this as essential viewing for both film buffs and Horror buffs. While many elements are allegorical for what was happening at the time it was made, Blomberg flawlessly melds them together with traditional narrative cinema that general film viewers and serious cinema lovers will both enjoy. I would also recommend reading up a little on the folklore and legends of Finland as there are some elements to the film that only those from Finland or those who study the culture would recognize. Little of the cinema of Finland is readily available in the States and in some other places of Europe, and this film shows a prime example of the many things Finland and its culture are famous for, and introduces them to new people. So far the film is only available on Blu ray from its native land and the very recent UK Blu Ray from Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema line. The UK Blu Ray offers an exquisite transfer both in the visuals and sound, and the subtitles are finely translated to the original Finnish audio. A must for any type of film fan.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners including Tumbler

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for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045283/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Reindeer

Buying options

The White Reindeer

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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