Wonders in the Dark

The Wedding at Hardanger (no 92)


by Allan Fish

(Norway 1926 105m) DVD2 (Norway only)

Aka. Brudeferden I Hardanger; The Bridal Party at Hardanger

Pining for the fjords

p  Rasmus Breistein  d/w  Rasmus Breistein  novel  “Marit Skjolte” by Kristofer Janson  ph  Gunnar Nilsen-Vig   m  Halldor Krogh

Aase Bye (Marit Skjolte), Henry Gleditsch (Anders Bjaland), Gunhild Schytte-Jacobsen (older Marit Skjolte), Alfred Maurstad (Vigleik Skjolte), Annik Saxegaard (Eli Skjolte), Vilhelm Lund (Tore Skjolte), Oscar Larsen (older Anders Bjaland), Martin Fiksen (Bard), Dagmar Myhrvold (Kari Bjorve), Henny Skjönberg (Tore’s mother), Gustav Berg-Jaeger (Presten),

When one thinks of Scandinavian cinema in the silent era, Norway isn’t the first country to come to mind.  Indeed, of the four principal Scandinavian national cinemas, there’s a case for saying that the Norwegian has been the least prestigious.  Sweden may dominate and need no introduction, while Denmark had Dreyer and Christensen and others would follow.  Finland, though generally lagging behind, still gave us Tulio, Donner and more recently Kaurismaki.  What has Norway given us?  Only one other film in this list – Per Blom’s The Ice Palace, hardly itself a recognised film – and only a few others worthy of mention.  Here, however, we have the great exception to the rule, Rasmus Breistein’s The Wedding at Hardanger, and yet who has heard of it outside the most specialist and eclectic silent cinema enthusiasts?  It was released on DVD in 2008 after a painstaking restoration which not only restored the quality of the footage but the length, and from the carcass of the 75 minute version that had previously been the only extant copy, arose the greatest film of not only Norwegian silent cinema but arguably their cinema full stop. 

            Janson’s novel was a famous one in its homeland, and like many silents of the era to the south in Sweden, it was rural and melodramatic in tone.  As her parents leave the fjords behind them to set a new life up in America, Marit dreams of her childhood sweetheart Anders.  When he goes away, he leaves her a brooch and promises to marry her on his return in a few years.  She patiently waits, but after four years nothing has been heard, and we soon discover that Anders has preferred to engage himself to money, in the form of the less attractive but well set Kari.  A truly distraught Marit, who’d been reduced to chopping wood for a cotter in the mountains, accepts the marriage offer of another admirer, Tore.  Then we cut forward a generation…

            It wouldn’t be out of place to call the ensuing last act Brontëesque for the second generation lay their own despair onto the already overburdened elders.  In truth, the plot is disposable, very much a “seen one, you’ve seen them all” sort of family saga, but it’s the romantic fatalism and the truly breathtaking scenery that hit you in the solar plexus.  The great Swedisn cinematographer of the silent era Julius Jaenzon would be proud of some of Nilsen-Vig’s stunning vistas here, in which the characters are neither dwarfed by or dominating their surroundings, merely a part of the landscape.  Credit, too, to the actors, for all the performances are pitched at just the right note, just this side of the point of parody, with special mention for Bye as the tragic Marit, with a face that makes one only wonder what may have happened to her if she’d been Swedish and not Norwegian.  Yet it’s those vistas one recalls, shot in and around Aya and Lofthaus in Ullenswang.  And then let us not forget the contributions of the restoration team who went to incredible lengths to restore each frame individually and tint them to absolute perfection, with some pink and blue hues in particular that are quite simply impossible to better (one thinks in particular of a pink shot of the bridal party on the water and a blue shot of a graveyard at dusk).  These are sequences to rival anything in the pastoral silents of Sjöstrom or Stiller, and all the more stunning for being all the less heralded.  In all, Breistein made fourteen films of which this was his fourth, and Hardanger is alone reason enough to seek out any of the others when you get the chance.  It really is the dictionary definition of a forgotten masterpiece.  Get to the Norwegian Film Institute and buy it, while you can.