Wednesday 24 January 2007

Miss Julie (1951) Alf Sjöberg

Winner of the grand prize at Cannes in 1951, I guess that means that there were other directors of note in Sweden other than Ingmar Bergman, at least after the end of the silent era and before the rise of the Dogme collective. As you'd expect from the title, the story is about Miss Julie, a forceful young aristocrat. She causes a bit of a stir at the beginning of the film by dancing with one of her servants at the Midsummer Night servants' Ball and then shows him up because he isn't putting enough of his soul into it. She doesn't stop there either and keeps alternately tormenting him and flirting with him for the rest of the film.

Perhaps she's a little crazy because she's only 25 years old, and she's been engaged to be married but apparently the engagement is now off. Maybe it's confusion because as the only child of an aristocratic family, she was brought up for manmy years as a boy. Maybe it's the whole class thing, as certainly she's a temperamental sort, acting like a spoiled child one minute and the high and mighty lady of the manor the next. She's important enough for her and her mother to have their own seats at church, way out on their own while everyone else has to sit in the pews. So she's drawn to the forbidden fruit of the footman yet repelled by slumming it with him.

Reading up on the story, it's apparently 1894 though this isn't made apparent in the film, and the source play by August Strindberg, often filmed and translated into operas, is designed to discuss the issues of class combined with love and lust. Apparently the focus of the film, which after all is almost entirely on Miss Julie and Jean the servant, has to do with a battle of power. Miss Julie has power of Jean because she's an aristocrat, but Jean has power over Miss Julie because he's a man. The Count, who only appears in flashbacks, has power over them both by being an aristocrat and a man. Even absent, his name is enough to make them think twice about anything.

I know none of these actors at all, beyond Max Von Sydow who seemingly must appear in every Swedish film there is. The leads, Anita Bjork and Ulf Palme, are excellent though and do a fine job of carrying the film on their own. The only time they really give up some of the spotlight is to share it with their younger selves when Inger Norberg and Jan Hagerman take over, and they're not bad at all. All of them make me wonder how many other names there are in Swedish cinema that I've never heard of.

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