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  • Warning: Spoilers
    I viewed 'Lavinen' (a.k.a. 'Avalanche') at the 2006 Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy. This Danish silent is notable for two reasons. Firstly, it uses an elaborate flashback structure, which actually remains quite coherent despite the uninspired technique of this film's director (Emanuel Gregers, more a workman than a craftsman). Secondly, in the lead role, this film features a stand-out performance by Bodil Ipsen, a leading actress of the Danish stage who performed in only four silent films. In the sound era, she had a successful career as a film director. As seen here, Ipsen was rather a hefty woman; her large frame may have been an asset on the stage, but works against her in film. Despite this, her performance is excellent.

    The villain of the piece is named Asp, a monicker which provoked some laughter in the multi-national audience at the screening I attended. It's possible that this movie's Danish filmmakers were aware that 'asp' in English is a type of venomous snake, but the name does not seem to be intended as humour. Even so, it was a poor choice.

    The film's narrative is not linear, so my synopsis is apt to be somewhat confusing. Ipsen plays Maria Lindorph, who lives happily enough with her husband Poul (Jon Iversen) and their son (Arne Wheel) in a provincial town. But Poul has just been appointed the state prosecutor, an honour which requires him to move to Copenhagen ... and Maria is clearly dreading the change. Specifically, Maria is afraid that she'll cross paths with Asp (Johannes Meyer), a newspaper editor who has entree to the highest levels of Danish society.

    We now learn (in flashback) Maria's sad history. After her mother's death, young Maria continued to live with her stern father (Carl Lauritzen) and his malicious housekeeper. On the sly, Maria was secretly trysting with handsome young student Poul Lindorph, an orphan with no prospects. When her father discovers the liaisons, he orders Maria out of his house. She and Poul make a go at housekeeping, but this proves difficult with no money. More for Poul's sake than for herself, Maria becomes Asp's mistress, solely to make enough money to enable Poul to continue his studies. When Poul graduates, Maria ends her relationship with Asp.

    Sure enough, at a luxury ball in Copenhagen, Maria once again meets Asp. Her beauty is still intact after all these years, and Asp is eager to pick up where they left off ... even though he's now involved with a new mistress (Astrid Holm) who is younger and prettier. Maria spurns him, but this prompts Asp to threaten her with exposure; he's quite capable of telling her husband about their shared history. Maria rushes home to her husband and son, determined to protect this family tableau.

    SPOILERS COMING. Soon, Asp is found murdered, and his young mistress is charged with the crime. As prosecutor, it's Poul's job to convict her. He does so, easily. But now Maria comes forward; to save the falsely charged woman, Maria confesses that she murdered Asp to protect her husband and son. When Poul learns the truth, he forgives his wife. Happy endings all round ... except that Poul's oath of office requires him either to charge Maria or recuse himself. For some reason, this is never mentioned.

    'Lavinen' is well made, with some lush production detail in the high-society sequences. The cast give good performances, with Ipsen especially notable. Still, this story has the feeling of soap opera, or perhaps just opera: a more trivial 'Traviata'. Some of the problem may be due to the fact that this film depicts an older time, when people had priorities unlike ours, and a moral code quite different from today's standards. I wish that this same cast and material had been given the benefit of a more distinctive director. As it is, I'll rate 'Lavinen' 7 out of 10, mostly on the strength of Bodil Ipsen's performance.