Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Walpurgis Night (Gustaf Edgren, 1935)


Gustaf Edgren’s Walpurgis Night initially impresses for its social consciousness, starting with a newspaper office discussion about Sweden’s declining birthrate, the participants splitting on whether the causes are primarily social (in particular a housing shortage) or whether it’s basically because of there being not enough love to go around. It rapidly becomes clear that the film is staking itself on the latter, less rigorous theory, as it launches into a bizarrely overstuffed and coincidence-strewn plot encompassing a raid on an illegal abortion provider, a wicked blackmailer, a covered-up murder, and much else; it even encompasses a scene in the French Foreign Legion (including the execution of an attempted deserter). By the latter stages, the movie is racing through key point developments (such as an apparent successful subsequent desertion), as if randomly discarding as much weight as necessary to get a rickety plane off the ground; still, this does somewhat contribute to a sense of societal insecurity and anxiety. An interesting secondary aspect is the portrayal of a society beset with people making a living by peddling opportunistic photographs or stray bits of gossip to the newspapers, a practice presented here as being amusingly harmless for the most part, but which speaks to the censoriousness and societal hypocrisy explored in so many other Swedish films (it’s typical of the film that while it makes much of the discovery of the abortion operation, it shows no interest in the plight of and consequences for the women whose privacy was thereby breached). The movie may most often be viewed now for the pre-Hollywood Ingrid Bergman, not that interestingly cast here as a woman of almost cloying virtue. Victor Sjostrom plays her father, with something of the pained gravity that would reach its zenith years later in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, lurching between treating his daughter as a latter-day saint and damning her as a common trollop.

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