Early & Silent Film

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The Bride of Glomdal / Glomdalsbruden, Norway 1926

Posted by keith1942 on February 14, 2018

This film, written, directed and edited by Carl Th. Dreyer, was screened in the ‘Scandinavian Cinema’ programme at the 21017 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. The programme was one of the highlights of the Festival and this was a title that stood out. Unfortunately we did not see the entire and original film. Morten Eghom’s notes in the Festival Catalogue explained:

“In many description of The Bride of Glomdal it is assumed that the film is relatively complete, but at the premiere in Oslo the film’s length was 2525 metres. Whereas the surviving material in 0nly 1250 metres. The surviving version, though coherent and logical, differs considerably from what appears in the original Norwegian title list. Probably a re-editing took place around the time of the Danish premiere on 15 April 1926.”

The plot and the characters of the film certainly worked and provided an interesting narrative filmed with Dreyer’s usual style and grace. The titular character is Berit Glomgaarden (Tove Tellback) who lives with her father Ola (Stub Widberg). Berit’s childhood friend and current sweetheart is Thore Braaten (Einar Sissener) whose family occupy a poorer farm than that of Glomgaarden. There is an economic and class divide between the couple and an actual divide, a river, which figures importantly in the plot.

Ola is a widower and plans to marry Berit to Gjermund Haugsett (Einar Tweito) from a relativity affluent farm. Initially this arranged marriage is opposed both by Berit herself and and Gjermund. But as the action develops Gjermund comes to favour the match and develops a serious antagonism to Thore.

This turns into a fight at an open-air dance near the village. This is a beautifully presented sequence in a meadow overlooking the river. The couples dance under the sky and a fiddler provides the music. It is Gjermund who interrupts Berit and Thore as they dance. And the two men have to be separated by the villagers.

Despite the mutual affection of Berit and Thore Ola is adamant that his daughter should marry Gjermund.

‘No beggar should ask for daughter of Glomdal’.

The conflict grows more divisive. Ola takes Berit to the Haugsett farm but she rides off. Berit has a fall crossing the river to Thore’s side. She ends up injured and cared for at the Braaten farm, unable to be moved. Ola now disowns his daughter,

‘I have no daughter’.

The point is emphasised by him dumping Berit’s trunk of belongings at that farm.

Whilst Berit and Thore are now together the dominant values hold sway. Berit does not feel that she can marry Thore without the approval of her father. At the same time she ‘does not trust herself’ in such close proximity to Thore. The film here develops a sensuous feel in the embraces and kisses of the young couple.

But following the path of virtue Berit moves to the house of the Vicar of the village. Meanwhile Thore approaches Ola and ‘honestly’ asks for the hand of his daughter. Ola remains adamant. It is suggested that the lack of a wife and mother at the farm is a factor in his intransigence. It is the vicar who comes to the rescue and Ola finally accedes to his daughter’s wishes.

However, one last dramatic conflict remains. On the day that the bride sets out to the ceremony and the house of her husband to-be Gjermund re-appears. He waylays the party at the river crossing by sabotaging the boats. Thore falls in the river and is wept downstream by the current. A distraught Berit follows his progress on the bank. Finally, and exhausted, he is able to near the bank and Berit assists him from the river. The film ends as the young bride arrives to celebrate her nuptials as the villagers crowd round the church. A long shot provides a graceful camera tilt up the church spire, ending on an iris.

Morten Egholm explained the source of the film,

“The film is based on a novel of the same title by the Norwegian author Jacob Breda Bull (1853 – 1930), and is a classic example of the ‘Norwegian Village’ film, in which contemporary love stories take place in sunny Norwegian villages. Since the actors only had the summer off from their respective theatre contracts, Dreyer for the first and last time in his career decided to be looser in the preparations for a film – the shooting was virtually improvised from day to day, without a script. A list of individual scenes was made, though, including some narrative elements from Bull’s novel ‘Eline Vangen’, since Dreyer felt that the novel ‘Glomdalsbruden’ didn’t contain enough story elements.”

The film’s love story also fits into the wider Scandinavian cinema of the period, sharing a number of themes and tropes with the other films in the programme. So there is the class division which frustrates the desires of the young couple. We have another strong-willed and independent heroine who comes into conflict with traditional mores. And the conflicts lead to violence. The distinctive aspect of the film is the physical relationship. Egholm describes the couples’ scenes at the Braaten household as ‘erotic’ [possibly more so in the longer version] and Berit certainly displays a physical passion. But she works within the mores of the community, something some of the heroines resist.

The pleasures of this film include the beautifully realised naturalism and use of natural locations. The several river sequences are impressive. However, it seems that the original longer version would have offered more of this. Morten Egholm comments,

“By comparing some production stills from an illustrated version of the novel with the Norwegian title list and the Norwegian and Danish printed film programmes, it becomes clear that much footage is missing, especially the sequences from ‘Eline Vangen’ giving a more nuanced depiction of Thore and his family. ….

A number of lyrical nature sequences were probably also cut. Dreyer himself stated, “I have realised that the poor peasant’s son in the film is depicted in rough surroundings, whereas the rich farmer’s daughter is surrounded by gentler nature.” This use of nature as a social contrast … is not very obvious in the existing film, possibly because of its shortening after the premiere.”

The contrast is there though and it also works as a gender contrast. But Thore seems less developed as a character than Berit. Gjermund is allowed a limited sympathy, but this is dissipated as the film and his malevolence develop. The actors in these roles, like the supporting cast, are another excellent aspect of the film.

The film was one of the titles screened from a DCP. However, this was a quality transfer. The digital version had many of the cinematic qualities enjoyed by ‘reel’ films. It was the best set of digital files that I saw at the Festival. The Catalogue notes that the surviving film was transferred at 17 fps. However, the Verdi Theatre projectors apparently only run at 24fps or faster. I suspect that in fact the transfer relied on digital step-printing. Given the rhythms that Dreyer and his cinematographer, Einar Olsen, offer this was not noticeable. The screening enjoyed a fine accompaniment by John Sweeney.


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