26 August 2015 | CJBx7
The Effects of Man's Inhumanity to Man on an Individual
Poverty, loss, revenge, and man's inhumanity to man are the themes that propel director Victor Sjostrom's film TERJE VIGEN (1917) (listed here under its English title A MAN THERE WAS). Sjostrom portrays the title character in this adaptation of a poem by noted author Henrik Ibsen. Terje is a sailor who supports his small family in Norway. A blockade by the English navy causes Terje to undertake a dangerous voyage to get supplies for his family, but he is caught and imprisoned. When he learns of his family's death from starvation, he becomes a broken man. One day he comes unexpectedly face to face with the captain responsible for his imprisonment, as he and his family are caught in a violent storm. What choice will Terje Vigen make?
The story is told in approximately one hour. Modern filmmakers could learn much from the economy and concision of these early features. The narrative is straightforward, simple and unadorned, with no padding or extraneous subplots, and the story is told most effectively. It uses title cards sparingly, and in a very interesting fashion. Lines from the original poem are displayed on the screen, then the action described in the lines takes place, and the viewer is able to follow from there.
The actors do fine work in this film. Sjostrom proves to be a fine actor in the lead role, imbuing his character with dignity, sorrow, tenderness, anger, and many other emotions. The supporting cast is also effective, particularly Bergliot Husberg as Mrs. Vigen. The actors show restraint and naturalism in their parts, largely avoiding the tendency towards big melodramatic gestures that marked contemporary theatrical productions.
Equally notable is the cinematography, which depicts both the beauty and the dangerous ferocity of the sea, as well as the starkness of the island landscapes. Sjostrom made very effective use of the Norwegian scenery, causing nature to become a character in its own right in the film. Tinting adds to the moody atmosphere. The camera is mostly stationary, according to the custom of the time, but the shots are very well composed, like paintings. In addition, the film is well edited, not allowing shots to go on longer than necessary.
This film was definitely very moving and memorable. TERJE VIGEN is a compelling and concise tale of the effects of man's inhumanity to man, and of the dilemmas that individuals face when tempted to cast compassion aside. It is rendered effectively through succinct scripting, heartfelt and naturalistic acting, and artfully composed cinematography. It is definitely a masterpiece of silent cinema. SCORE: 10/10