Transfer: Very Good
Label: Filigra Nowa
Region: 2 (PAL)
Genre: Drama / Horror / Supernatural
Synopsis: A newlywed wanting more attention from her husband makes a wish that transforms her into an alluring white reindeer out for blood.
Special Features: Photo Gallery / Trailer.
Erik Blomberg’s eerie little film is part folk horror story, moral lesson, and a remarkable evocation of an expressionistic silent classic, with its reliance on striking B&W cinematography and music to hammer home the story of a woman who wants her husband to pay more attention to her instead of the reindeer herd.
Mirjami Kuosmanen, a dead-ringer for American actress Jennifer Jones, plays Pirita, a newlywed to herder Aslak (Kalervi Nissila). The couple live in a small cabin with other men, and the tiny village’s social life revolves around reindeer, seeing the men off, socializing during their time away, and celebrating their return with feats and races in spite of the stark weather and severe cold.
The harsh, bleak environs of the flowing land is also exceptionally beautiful, and Blomberg starts the film with a continuous 360 degree pan as the Main Titles unfold. Blomberg, who also served as cinematographer, frames every shot like a portrait, be it massive close-ups of his cast in states of joy, anticipation, angst, and hunger, or the wind-blown hills where the men and women live, travel, and play.
Even if the world of White Reindeer is a romanticized version of a rustic, insular life (not indifferent to Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran, or Michael Powell’s Edge of the World, both tales of people struggling to survive in severe environments), it’s also a rare snapshot of a culture largely unseen in western film.
Had Blomberg’s film been a romantic vignette of reindeer herders, it would’ve made a fine little docu-drama, but along with wife / co-screenwriter Kuosmanen, the pair added a bit of the supernatural: with little privacy to indulge in nighttime marital fun, let alone see her husband for more than a few days at a time, Pirita travels to an eerie monolith made of reindeer horns and bones, ostensibly to make a wish for a better love life and be the envy of men. She’s been sent to the chilling locale by an eccentric / creepy shaman (Arvo Lehesmaa), and after making a blood sacrifice with a prized white baby reindeer, heads home believing she’s been spiritually empowered and is supremely desirable… but like a wild creature, when the moon and the night are still, she hungers for blood.
A rage to feast transforms Pirita into a large white reindeer, a rare beast that hypnotically lures transfixed herders to an isolated clearing, where she flips back to human state, but a need to feed off her victim’s blood. Like a drunkard, she reawakens with a hangover, and after too many killings and an inability to control her transformation, realizes the town is out to hunt for the killer reindeer.
There’s no fancy transformation sequences; Blomberg uses negative film at one point for a bit of experimentalism, but the leap from human to beast is with a simple cut, and the rest is performance, camera, and striking lighting. The horror stems not from death, but the luring of men to their dooms, and the inevitable horror of Pirita realizing her own husband may be the one who ultimately kills her.
White Reindeer has no narrative fat, but Blomberg takes his time in setting up the physical environment that drives Pirita batty, showing beauty and harshness as peculiar stressors that push a woman with reasonable desires to a desperate act.
Einar Englund’s score is exquisite, blending folk harmonies (including an eerie post-credit prologue showing Pirita’s birth) with striking orchestral colours; it’s almost wall-to-wall music, but blends with the natural sounds of wind and the moving herds.
A Grand Prize winner at Cannes in 1952, White Reindeer’s been released in Europe on DVD (namely in Finland, and France with Emglish & French subtitles), but the film remains unavailable in North America, and certainly deserves the Criterion treatment in introducing both the movie and its skilled makers to film (and horror) fans.
© 2016 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review