Retro Review: Lost Finnish Art/Vampire Movie THE WHITE REINDEER Gets a Rare Bite on the Big Screen at The Plaza Sat. Jan. 14

Posted on: Jan 11th, 2012 By:

 

Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen) takes a bite from the throat of an unsuspecting hunter in THE WHITE REINDEER (1952).

THE WHITE REINDEER (1952); Dir: Erik Blomberg; Starring Mirjami Kuosmanen; Introduced by Professor Morte (Silver Scream Spookshow) including ticket giveaway to Days of the Dead horror convention; a short audience discussion will follow the film by GSU Prof. John Decker; Sat. Jan. 14  7:30 p.m.; $8; Plaza Theatre;  Trailer here.

Art, foreign, horror and classic fantasy film buffs all will get a rare treat when lost award-winning 1952 Finnish movie THE WHITE REINDEER (“Valkoinen Peura”) gets an extremely rare return to the big screen at the Plaza Theatre on Sat. Jan. 14 at 7:30 pm., courtesy of the Scandinavian-American Foundation of Georgia (SAFG) and the Mythic Imagination Institute (MII). The first significant post-World War II Finnish film, THE WHITE REINDEER won a 1953 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film and the Fairy Tale Award at the Cannes Film Festival from a jury led by Jean Cocteau (LA BELLE ET LA BETE). However, despite its critical acclaim and beautiful cinematography, the movie only had a limited U.S. theatrical release in the late 1950s and since then has been largely forgotten other than a recent appearance on French DVD (it’s not available from Netflix!), perhaps due to its unusual and enigmatic subject matter blending an art film sensibility, the shamanism/folklore of the indigenous, nomadic Lapland (Sami) people and the unlikely themes of shape-shifting and vampirism.

Those supernatural aspects have earned  THE WHITE REINDEER a cult reputation among classic horror movie fans, making it an extra special treat to have an intro by Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, and if you need extra incentive, he’ll be handing out a few passes to Days of the Dead, the big horror con in Peachtree City March 9-11. However, as noted, don’t get scared off if you’re more intrigued by art and foreign films or the anthropology and folklore of Sami shamanism. The art and mythic elements will get their due in a short audience discussion after the film led by John Decker, assistant professor of art history at Georgia State University, whose academic interests range from religious and devotional imagery to the zombie apocalypse.  “Tales both of people transforming into deer and of vampirism span many cultures from Europe to Native Americans,” points out Honora Foah, president and creative director of the Mythic Imagination Institute. “Films are the folklore of our times, and we’re hoping this movie will launch an ongoing Mythic Movie series.”

It’s easy to see why Cocteau was drawn to THE WHITE REINDEER. The plot itself is a simple and archetypal tale of love lost and a spell gone tragically wrong.  A lonely and heartbroken Sami woman, Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen, who incidentally was the wife of director Erik Blomberg), turns to a shaman for help in reigniting the love of her husband, Aslak, who is more interested in herding reindeer than romancing his wife. But thanks to being born under the curse of the Midnight Sun, the sacrifice she must make to activate the love potion instead transforms her into a vengeful “White Reindeer,” a tantalizing prize for hunters who soon find themselves the prey as she reveals herself as a beautiful vampire.

A haunting reindeer graveyard in THE WHITE REINDEER (1952)

Vivid and vibrant may seem strange terms to describe a black-and-white movie, but Finnish director Erik Blomberg knows his cinematography (he has more credits for that on IMDB than directing). Vistas of the Sami people herding the reindeer in the snow, a sled race and a traditional wedding transport one effortlessly into the world of this Nordic culture which he has also covered as a documentarian. It’s also perhaps worth remembering that the Sami themselves dress colorfully, often in navy blue, trimmed with yellow, green and red.

But it’s Mirjami herself, as Pirita, who steals the screen with her haunting, emotive eyes. Perhaps the performances are a little over-emotional at points, like that of a silent film, and indeed, dialogue is sparse and simple consistent with the stoic Finns. Still, in the context of the fantastic theme and landscape, it’s easy to see those qualities as strength rather than weakness. If you do classify THE WHITE REINDEER as a vampire classic, that silent movie but with minimal sound visual quality is more reminiscent perhaps of Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s VAMPYR (1931), an early talkie which also has very little dialogue,  than of, say, the closer-to-contemporary Universal horror classics, Bela Lugosi’s eyes aside. Incidentally, Dreyer was Danish.

It's easy to forget Bela Lugosi's Eyes when you see Mirjami Kuosamanen in THE WHITE REINDEER (1952).

Finally, if there’s one more good reason to attend: proceeds benefit the two nonprofit sponsors, SAFG and MII, and the Plaza, Atlanta’s oldest continuously operating independent cinema, open since 1939, which is also a nonprofit organization. It runs just 67 minutes, too, so there’s still plenty of time to catch a band, such as the triple-header of The District Attorneys, featuring this week’s Kool Kat Drew Beskin, Tedo Stone and Modern Skirts at The Earl. In fact, you’ll see me at both The Plaza and The Earl, and most likely dining at the Majestic beforehand, too.

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