« Who Saw Her Die? | Main | The Spoilers »

September 24, 2019

The White Reindeer


Valkoinen peura
Erik Blomberg - 1952
Eureka! BD Region B/Region 2 DVD two-disc set

I don't recall exactly how I first became aware of The White Reindeer. What I do remember is that someone had mentioned that Christa Fuller, filmmaker Samuel Fuller's wife, thought it one of the most frightening films she had ever seen. Blomberg's film, the first from Finland to play at Cannes, also had a limited U.S. release as well as winning a Golden Globe for Best Foreign film. For those weaned on more graphic horror, The White Reindeer may come across as quaint. In terms of genre, contemporary viewers may find it of interest as a predecessor to those films inspired by folk beliefs such as The Wicker Man and Midsommar. The White Reindeer exists in a pre-modern world, where pagan beliefs are not easily dismissed as superstition.

Blomberg began his filmmaking career as a documentarian, and the film begins almost as a documentary or travelogue about reindeer herders in Lapland. But first is a song from a female vocalist about a girl who unknowingly is a witch at birth. The mother is seen running from a pack of wolves, into a shed. The first scenes take place in the snow covered country, where a few scattered trees encased in ice and snow appear as ghostly sentries. Most of the film takes place outside, to the point where the valley becomes a character, determining the lives of the characters. Blomberg makes a point of using several shots at various points at several distances, minimizing the size of the people in their environment. The first shots of the herding community are silent with a mix of styles that suggest older films made decades earlier. That the herders all are wearing Lapp specific clothing, and seen living in a way that seems to have not changed for at least a century makes it difficult to identify when the film takes place. Between aspects of the filmmaking style and the presentation of the characters, The White Reindeer appears out of time. It is only with the later appearance of a characters identified as being from "the South", with his contemporary clothing and his rifle, that we see a brief intrusion of the modern world.

That non-specific time period is established when the Lapp villagers are seen in a celebration, with a race of sleds pulled by reindeers. A young woman, Pirita, wins the race as well as the heart of herder Aslak. The two get married, but domestic life is disappointing between Aslak's long absences in the reindeer roundups and an apparent lack of interest in intimacy. Pirita is given a gift of a baby white reindeer that is the recipient of her affections while Aslak is away. After praying to the stone god, a large rock pillar adorned with antlers, Pirita visits a shaman who creates a love potion. If Pirita had only intended for this potion to strengthen her relationship with Aslak, it's unclear as the shaman states that Pirita will attract all of the herders. For the potion to take effect, Pirita is to sacrifice the first living thing she sees.

The White Reindeer will probably remind many of Jacques Tourneur's Cat People (1942). Both films present unrepressed female sexuality linked with turning into an animal, as well as the presence of a family curse. In both films, the female protagonist is unable to free herself from her situation, although Pirita appears to have greater control over her impulses. There are no special effects as might have been used by filmmakers at the time. While this may be frustrating to the more literal minded viewers, Blomberg creates his effects through editing. While not as ambiguous as the horror films produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s, Blomberg creates the horror in part by what the viewers think they are seeing.

Erk Blomberg served as cinematographer and editor in addition to directing. The script was co-written with his wife, Mirjami Kuosmanen, who also appears as Pirita. The blu-ray was created from a recent 4K restoration by the National Audiovisual Institute of Finland.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 24, 2019 06:18 AM