The White Reindeer is a 1952 collaboration between renowned Finnish cinematographer Erik Blomberg and his partner Mirjami Kuosmanen, both writing the script and with Blomberg directing. The result is a remarkable, beautiful, and compelling film that is fascinatingly rooted in Lapland mythology and Sámi practices. It stars Kuosmanen as Pirita, a young woman who willingly enters into a marriage with Aslak, a reindeer herder in the small village both live in. Initially the union is blissfully happy but as Aslak’s work takes him away from home frequently and for long periods, Pirita becomes frustrated and visits a local wizard. There she hopes to come away with a potion that will make her irresistible to her husband. What Pirita doesn’t know is that there will be a terrible price linked with her heritage that turns her into both bloodthirsty vampire and has her shapeshifting into the titular harbinger of doom.
The film is shot as part dream, part nightmare with its almost fairy tale-like beginning as Pirita and Aslak become a couple. As her frustration and loneliness grows, so the darkness enters the film in greater depth. From her visit to the wizard, via a graveyard of reindeers surrounding a monument to a god to the stark deaths of the curse’s victims, the way in which Blomberg’s film twists the initial happiness of the couple towards a bleak, tragic conclusion is expertly done. There is some incredible imagery in The White Reindeer, with many compositions hauntingly beautiful. Kuosmanen is outstanding as Pirita, surrounded by excellent support. Its themes remain absolutely relevant, most particularly the punishment meted out to Pirita for daring to feel desire (witch here being easily equated with the character’s quiet refusal to conform to the role her society dictates for her). This is a fantastic film, ripe and deserving for discovery by new fans.
The accompanying extras on this new release provide welcome context and consideration of its place in Finnish cinema and as a genre film. There’s a feature-length commentary by Kat Ellinger that is very informative, covering a lot of ground to support the case for The White Reindeer’s place as classic. An audio essay by Amy Simmons further places it within the history of cinematic depictions of witches in Nordic film and is a very worthwhile piece. There’s Blomberg’s own 1947 short on reindeer herding as well as some brief but captivating colour test footage, and from the 1952 Jussi Awards ceremony. Finally, it comes with a booklet featuring writing from Alexandra Heller Nichols and Philip Kemp. It’s a solid package, more so when you consider the film itself is more than enough reason to pick this up. Highly recommended.
THE WHITE REINDEER (1952) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ERIK BLOMBERG / SCREENPLAY: ERIK BLOMBERG, MIRJAMI KUOSMANEN / STARRING: MIRJAMI KUOSMANEN, KALERVO NISSILÄ, ÅKE LINDMAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW