Review: ‘Kristin Lavransdatter’

Kristin Lavransdatter Elisabeth Matheson Erlend Nikulausson Bjorn Skagestad Lavrans Sverre Anker Ousdal Ragnfrid Henny Moan Lady Ashild Rut Tellefsen Simon Darre Jorgen Langhelle Ulv Svein Tindberg Brother Edvin Erland Josephson Eline Ormsdatter Lena Endre

Kristin Lavransdatter Elisabeth Matheson Erlend Nikulausson Bjorn Skagestad Lavrans Sverre Anker Ousdal Ragnfrid Henny Moan Lady Ashild Rut Tellefsen Simon Darre Jorgen Langhelle Ulv Svein Tindberg Brother Edvin Erland Josephson Eline Ormsdatter Lena Endre

“Kristin Lavransdatter,” the second feature directed by Norwegian thesp Liv Ullmann, is an epic medieval love story of lavish, ultra-ambitious dimensions based on the classic Scandinavian novel by Sigrid Undset. Ullmann has been fascinated by the tale for decades: She played Kristin Lavransdatter in a stage production early in her career, and she had hoped to play the role on the bigscreen as well. Ironically, she has finally made a movie of “Kristin Lavransdatter” as a director, and it stars an actres, Elisabeth Matheson, who bears a remarkable resemblance to the young Ullmann.

This period piece will likely play well in the Scandinavian countries where the story is well known, but the three-hour length, sleephy pacing and often stilted drama will make it a hard sell elsewhere. There are pleasures tobe had watching ‘Kristin Lavransdatter,” notably the beautifully stylish camerawork of Sven Nykvist, but Ullmann doesn’t make it easy for the viewer, taking a slow, almost laborious trip through what is in many ways a predictable story.

Set at the beginning of the 14th century in the gudbrandsdal valley in Norway , film opens with Kristin as a 7-year-old girl surrounded by her family in the midst of the idyllic, somewhat mysterious countryside. First portion of pic is narrated by female voiceover.

But tragedy is lurking in the shadows. Her father, Lavrans, has already lost three sons, and then Kristin’s younger sister is nearly crushed to death by a falling log.

Though she’s just a kid, Kristin’s future marriage plans have already been settled by Lavrans. She is to wed Simon Darre, the son of another landowner. BVut the young girl is actually more infatuated with the handsome, brooding Arne. She becomes even more confused and upset after one of her bneighbors tries to rape her in the woods, and she asks her family to send her away to a covent for a while.

But her libido revs into full gearafter she sights a dashing knight in the nearby town. This man, Erlend Nikulausson, already has a complicated love life of his own.

In spite of his somewhat dubious reputation, Kristin runs off with Erlend, but their elopement is cut short when the woman he has been living with shows up seeking revenge.

Unfortunately, Ullmann ultimately doesn’t succeed in bringing Kristin’s passion to life onscreen in convincing fashion. Erlend comes off like a bit of a weak-willed cad, and Ullmann fails to make it clear why Kristin is utterly swept away by this admittedly good-looking knight. Also, most probably will find that Ullmann’s script simply takes too long in unfolding the drama.

Matheson looks suitably intense, but she seems unable to give the lead role the needed complexity. The other thesps fare better, particularly Bjorn Skagestad as the morally ambiguous knight, and Sverre Anker Ousdal and Henny Moan as Kristin’s long-suffering parents, whose own relationship is tested by their daughter’s tortured romance.

The richly detailed re-creation of medieval Norway is impressive, and Nykvist’s photography combines with a suitably epic score from Ketil Hvoslef to create a magieal, mysterious tableau that is as dramatic as anything in Ullmann’s script.

Kristin Lavransdatter

(NORWEGIAN-GERMAN-SWEDISH)

Production

A Norsk Film production, in coproduction with Lavransdatter Film, Telemunchen Film and Fernseh, Northern Lights and NRK Drama. (International sales: Cine-Intl., Munich.) Produced by Goran Lindstrom. Executive producer, Esben Hoilund Carlsen. Directed, written by Liv Ullmann,based on the novel by Sigrid Undset.

Crew

Camera (color), Sven Nykvist; editor, Michal Leszcylowski; music, Ketil Hvoslef; production design, Karl Juliusson; costume design, Inger Pehrsson; sound, Owe Swensson. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (competing), Sept. 2, 1995. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 180 MIN.
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