A beautiful film from Finland presenting a story from Lapland mythology, which won the one-off “best fairytale” prize at Cannes in 1953.
I read a lot of folklore as a kid, especially as my Dad would bring me books of local fairy tales from business trips. But I don’t think my scope ever reached Lapland, so The White Reindeer was both fascinating and eye-opening, due to my existing interests. And it’s funny: those of us who don’t live there only tend to hear stories of Lapland in the context of Christmas, which I’m sure were devised by outsiders, so I really appreciated this view from within.
The White Reindeer is about Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen, also credited as one of the writers) who falls for Aslak (Kalervo Nissilä) following a sledge race. The two clearly adore each other, but even when Aslak returns from weeks away herding reindeer, there is little passion. So Pirita visits a local wise man for help: he is very wary, but casts a spell, declaring “no reindeer herder will be able to resist you.” Now, what can’t reindeer herders resist…?
A little while later, a wild reindeer is spotted, with a striking white coat. Men track and ski for a long way to catch it, but don’t return. Meanwhile, Pirita finds some passion, but still craves her husband… If you’ve seen The Wolf Man, you understand the risks.
The acting is great, only slightly exaggerated, as though the cast were more used to stage or silent cinema. Erik Blomberg directed and filmed this tale with very obvious affection, both for the culture and the story. He takes time introducing us to the people, and the scenes when the couple meet and marry are warm and joyful. Blomberg’s background and forte is in cinematography, and you can tell: every scene is carefully constructed, with long, wide views across the snow or indoor close-ups chosen perfectly.
The music is also worth mentioning: at the start, the introductory narration is sung by a clear female voice, over a soft percussion. This makes way for a more familiar instrumental score but is an excellent way of setting the scene and putting the viewer right in a world removed from their own.
I understand The White Reindeer is coming to home media soon: please do watch out for it. It’s an absolute treat and visually unlike anything else.