'Laila''s Dominant Tone is One of Lyricism and Harsh Beauty

by Michael Barrett

8 July 2011

Emotional close-ups, beautiful locales, and hungry wolves in silent Norway.
cover art


Director: George Schneevoigt
Cast: Mona Martenson, Peter Malberg

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Laila (Mona Martenson) is a Norwegian orphan who, after several complicated and deadly circumstances, is adopted and raised by a reindeer-rich family of Lapps, a nomadic people of the far north. She falls in love with a Norwegian merchant whom she doesn’t realize is her cousin, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that everyone is wary of love across ethnic lines, although the plot has secretly solved this by having Laila believe she’s a Lapp when she’s not. So the story isn’t quite ready to cross that boundary (unlike, say, the Hollywood western The Squaw Man), although the merchant is ready to marry Laila before he realizes they’re from the same family anyway.

As Laila’s adoptive father, Peter Malberg is as striking and distinguished a screen presence as Martenson is radiantly young and beautiful. Indeed, all the actors register, including Tryggve Larssen as an avuncular Charley Grapewin-ish Lapp who does all the heavy plot-lifting. The strong, tender feelings of love and jealousy that various characters have for each other, including the hero’s lovely sister and the Lapp man engaged to Laila, make this silent drama an emotional display of pensive close-ups amid the splendors of the various locales. It’s also got action-packed scenes of being chased by wolves and going over waterfalls and such antics, but the dominant tone is one of lyricism and harsh beauty.
This restoration of a Norwegian silent classic, based on a classic Norwegian novel (all mostly unknown outside Norway), is for the most part beautifully sharp, which makes a great difference when appreciating the subtle facial expressions and the picturesque compositions. Robert Israel provides the piano score. The movie draws you in with the kind of spell only silent films can have. If some gestures seem “old-fashioned”, it’s only appropriate for this glimpse of a forgotten time and place.

The extras on the DVD are only photos, while an excellent booklet gives the history of this project and those involved, including director Schneevoigt, who made a talkie remake. There have been other remakes and similar romantic/exotic films about the Lapp people, which makes one’s mouth water in futility for a Lappland boxed set, or a history of Norwegian cinema.



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