Notes from Forever Film: “Valkoinen peura”

Patrick Holzapfel

– Before presenting the stunning Valkoinen peura the Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti decided to program two shorter films. The first film we saw was a surviving fragment of Teuvo Tulio’s Nuorena nukkunut and the second a contemporary work dealing with the decomposition of the copy of the former, Sami van Ingen’s Polte. Up to now this was the most thought-provoking and well done program of the retrospective.

– It can be said that this specific combination of films (despite being projected via DCP) and the retrospective as a whole so far give an idea about a possible moral of the copy. Let me try to explain what I mean. We are rather used to the fact (despite the fact that it is forgotten all the time in film criticism and filmmaking) that there is an idea of moral in the way image and sound relate to people, landscapes, the world. It is an ethics of filmmaking fought for by people like Jacques Rivette or Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. I think such a moral also exists concerning the material and to be more precise, the way institutions try to preserve, restore and finally show their films but also they way in which filmmakers and the audience make us use/look at those artefacts. It is not merely about showing a film on film or digital (though there is a moral to that as well), it is also about the decisions going into the treatment of the time which shows itself on the material. In my notes on White Shadows in the South Seas I wrote about the beauty of decay. Now, I regret having written that. Why? In the program from Helsinki it became clear to me that there is a difference between a “natural“ decay provoking certain effects that might differ from screening to screening (if projected on film) and artificial/enhanced ones that aestheticize or emphasize certain effects. I understand the fascination and I do find it very interesting to watch but I wonder what is the point in showing an audience something that becomes already very clear when watching the “original“ or even just a DCP of the original material. Polte, in relation to Nuorena nukkunut, feels like the sudden close-up of a dying person. It shows us how beautiful a film looks when it decays. I must say that I prefer when those realities of cinema are told to me by the films that remain, not by new ones opposing death with capturing deformation. Polte will become a very interesting film once the digital images decompose, too.

The White Reindeer
Valkoinen peura, 1952, Erik Blomberg, Mirjami Kuosmanen

– Maybe it is too much to look for a moral when it comes to how cinema treats its own artefacts. Where do these feelings for films come from? Maybe it has to do with a thought by Rivette who once wrote that the genius of the instrument surpasses the genius of the creator. It is a thought which is grounded in Jean Epstein and his photogénie. Now it is not the camera but the copy. Maybe we can call it copiegénie.

– Lets get to Valkoinen peura (The White Reindeer), one of the few films ever made in white and black.

– I decided to credit Erik Blomberg and Mirjami Kuosmanen as co-directors though usually only Blomberg is credited as such whereas his partner is credited as scriptwriter and actress. Blomberg always insisted that they did everything together. He worked as a cinematographer shooting early films of Teuvo Tulio, among them Nuorena nukkunut, and was part of the cinephile scene in Helsinki in the 1930s.

– Kuosmanen starred in Jack Witikka’s Lapland saga Aila – Daughter of the North, a film which was co-written by Blomberg. They were not happy with the result and made their own Lapland film one year later.

– The most fascinating aspect of seeing Valkoinen peura derives from an idea of fantasy which is filmed like early documentaries. It is the story of the snowfields of Lapland haunted by the daughter of a witch who turns into a white reindeer and devours men.

– J. Hoberman: “a quasi-ethnographic exercise in magic neorealism“.

– It is a vampire film, a film about reindeer and how to catch them, an elegiac contemplation about movements in snow, a musical piece (composer Einar Englund), a love story, a drama of fear and loneliness, a fairy-tale.

– The image of black silhouettes running through the white snow is repeated throughout the film. It follows a peculiar rhythm that feels like a downward spiral. In the fashion of folk tales and myths the films tells a very simple story based on repetition. Yet, I hesitate and find it hard to write about story or plot. The feeling of being there, the perception of the place weighs much heavier than what is told. The way people move, the way they are dressed, they way they deal with animals will stay with me much longer than the story. However, the idea of fantasy and illusion is an integral part of the film. It makes everything appear almost otherworldly. It also dreams up this important space that grants the other, in this case the people of Lappland, a possibility for inner movements without pretending to understand them on a psychological level.

– What we see is outer movement but it is fueled by inner emotion.

– Vladimir Nabokov once said about great literature that it has to tremble a bit, Marguerite Duras called this trembling “a fever“. Valkoinen peura has this kind of fever in my opinion. It is not a perfect film but it is made with a raw force and tenderness, one that tells about the feelings of possession in love. Kuosmanen stated that the story came from the unconsciousness of their relationship. The image of a couple going to Lappland in order to film the demons of their love is as haunting as the white reindeer itself.

More on Forever Film

Notes on Grauzone (1979, Fredi M. Murer)

Notes on Film and Reality (1942, Alberto Cavalcanti and Ernest Lindgren)

Notes on Yadanabon (1953, Tin Maung)

Notes on White Shadows in the South Seas (1928, W.S. Van Dyke, Robert J. Flaherty)

Notes on 30 Years of Motion Pictures (1927, Otto Nelson, Terry Ramsaye)

Notes on Sånt händer inte här (1950, Ingmar Bergman)