Kino has always been the champion of foreign films and early cinema,
and now they've released a pair of discs featuring silent films by the
influential Swedish director Victor Sjöström. This first
disc includes his 1918 film The Outlaw and His Wife, a psychological
drama that was way ahead of its time as well as a 1981 documentary on the
director, simply entitled Victor Sjöström.
Victor Sjöström is best known as an actor, most famously for
his appearances in Bregman films such as Wild Strawberries.
Though he started out as an actor, he was also a director in the early
days of film. His silent movies started the golden age of Swedish
film, and were quite sophisticated for their time. Sjöström
was one of the first to introduce realism into film. His movies often
involved psychologically complex characters and featured natural settings
which played an important role in the films. His work set the stage
for the German bergefilm (mountain film) genre as well as influenced such
directors as Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer.
This film is a good example of his work. An itinerant laborer,
Kari (Victor Sjöström) gets a job with the rich widow Halla (Edith
Erastoff, who would eventually marry Sjöström), on her farm.
Her brother-in-law, the local bailiff, has been pressuring her to marry
him so that he could get her land. She has no love for the man however,
and when Kari enters her life she falls in love with him. The bailiff
discovers that Kari is actually an escaped prisoner, sentenced to 10 years
in jail for stealing a sheep, and Orders Halla to get rid of him.
Instead of sending him away however, Kari and Halla run away to the mountains.
There they have a simple life. They live in a cave and hunt and
fish for food. They swim in the nearby lake and wash their clothes
in a hot spring. After five years they have a daughter, and one of
Halla's old workmen, Arnes (John Ekman) discovers them. He's an outlaw
now too, hiding beyond the reach of the law. He moves in with the
family and the group is quite happy for a while until jealousy rears its
ugly head. Arnes falls in love with Halla and doesn't see why Kari
should have her all to himself. On the mountain so many things could
happen to a man, it would be easy for an accident to claim the unsuspecting
This film deftly combines realistic characters with some beautiful
scenery to make a classic movie. The strongpoint of this film is
the comments Sjöström is able to make about society and possessions.
Halla is very rich, owning a lot of land and having a dozen men in her
employ to work it, but she's not happy. She has to fend off the advances
of her oafish brother-in-law and is also very lonely. When she gives
up all her worldly good to live like a hermit is the time that she's happy.
The same goes for Kari, who is never content until he's up on the mountain,
living off the land with the woman and daughter that he loves.
He also makes some interesting comments about marital relations.
No one who is single is contented and fulfilled. The bailiff covets
Halla's land, and Arnes wants her body. It's only Kari and Halla,
'married' and devoted to each other who are really contented. Even
when they're trapped in a blizzard at the end and fighting with each other,
their love pulls them together.
Another character Sjöström introduces to the film is the mountain
itself. More than just a background, it acts upon the other characters
just as a person would. It's a gorgeous place for the last acts of
the film, but Sjöström also reminds viewers that it is very dangerous.
Filled with deadly cliffs and the home to ferocious storms, these hilltops
are a lovely place to live, but can also bring death in an instant.
The film is accompanied by a new score (the score that was written for
the premier has been lost) written by Torbjorn Iwan Lundquist and performed
by a four piece orchestra. I didn't really enjoy this score as much
as I have other pieces written for other silent films. It seems to
distract from the movie at times and overpowered the action on screen.
There were times when the musical themes didn't change when the scenes
changed which gave the film an odd feeling. For example there's some
discordant music playing when a man is beating a young boy who lost two
of his lambs, which works fairly well, but the same jarring music continues
to play as the narrative changes to a man sheering his sheep which sounds
very odd. There were some sections that were aided by the score,
the harvest festival for instance, but overall this wasn't my favorite
The tinted full frame video was pretty good overall. The print
has a few spots, but less than I was expecting, and the level of detail
in the close-ups was good. The contrast left a little to be desired
in some places though. Some of the indoor scenes are dark with the
background details obscured by darkness. Some of the exterior scenes
are a bit too bright too, with details blooming somewhat. Even with
these problems, which don't mar the entire film, the image looks nice.
This disc also includes a 1981 Swedish documentary on the director.
It's presented in its original language with optional English subtitles.
I wasn't too impressed with this look at the famous director/actor.
It's very superficial and doesn't delve into his films or acting career
with the depth that I was hoping for. The time when Sjöström
was in Hollywood (where he was credited as Victor Seastrom) where he made
several movies including the Scarlet Letter with Lillian Gish was covered
in two minutes flat. There was a brief interview with Ingmar Bergman
who was greatly influenced by Sjöström, and clips from his films,
but aside from that the docu was uninspiring.
Though the first act is a little slow, the film is a joy to watch and
works itself up to a riveting conclusion. It's by no means a feel-good
film, but with realistic and complex characters this movie has more in
common with the 21st century drama than the melodrama that were common
at the time it was made. Kino has come up with a nice print and though
the soundtrack wasn't my favorite, this DVD is still worth owning.