If you only see one Finnish movie that makes use of folklore and reindeer to explore the themes of lycanthropy (maybe subtly altered to the word “lycaribouthropy”) and the danger of getting what you think you want then The White Reindeer is the film for you.
The very heart of the movie is Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen), a young woman who falls in love with, and marries, a reindeer herder named Aslak (Kalervo Nissilä). Sadly, Aslak has to be away from home a lot while he works, of course, and Pirita starts to feel concerned about losing his love. So, as you do, she asks a local shaman to make her even more desirable. The shaman makes her wish come true, but not necessarily in the way she expected.
I cannot say that I am familiar with director Erik Blomberg. Nor was I familiar with Kuosmanen, who helped to write the screenplay as well as taking on the central role. Whether or not they did anything else that equaled this, I will be interested if I ever see their names attached to anything else I watch on my never-ending journey throughout the halls of cinema. Both do excellent work here, delivering something as beautiful and poetic as it is succinct (the runtime is just over 70 minutes, and it delights and/or rewards viewers in every scene).
While there are good supporting performances, the whole thing rests on the shoulders of Kuosmanen, who effortlessly excels at being mesmerising throughout. Nissilä has less to do, generally, but he’s fine, and Arvo Lehesmaa gets to steal a couple of scenes as the shaman who irrevocably changes the life of our lead character.
This isn’t a film about the performances though, as good as they are. It is about the stunning visuals (and the landscape shots and framing here ARE stunning, the black and white cinematography providing so many frames that, to use a well-worn phrase, could easily be cut out and framed as a gorgeous painting), it’s about the way of living being presented, and it is about a woman left feeling unwanted, having lost that fire and chemistry that often comes along at the start of a relationship before evolving into something . . . different. Fires are replaced with a central heating system, chemistry leads to strong connection, and there’s more to this protracted analogy, but I think I should just stop now.
Let me just emphasise that, despite what may be viewed as a slim plot presented in a slim runtime, The White Reindeer is as densely packed and satisfyingly rich as a number of other cinematic classic I could mention. It moves between light and dark with ease, and I have used the “horror” label here to flag it up to those who are happy to explore the many ways in which the genre can be reworked and repurposed, and I look forward to revisiting it numerous times in the years ahead. As so often happens, I wish I had given my time and attention to this long before now.
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