Talking Pictures

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Ung Flukt (The Wayward Girl, Norway 1959)

Posted by keith1942 on March 7, 2019

This was a title in the Berlinale Classics programme. It fitted in to a theme that was central to the Retrospective and to the Film Festival overall, women’s film-making. This was the tenth feature directed by Edith Carlman. Edith Carlman was a dancer and actress who moved into cinema. In 1949, she and her husband Otto Carlman, set up a film production company, Carlman Film A/S. This title was her final film;

“The illegitimating daughter of a single working mother 17-year-old Gerd (Liv Ullman, aged 20 in her first leading role) has fallen into delinquency. After she spends a brief stint in police custody, Gerd’s boyfriend, a student, ( Anders – Atle Merton), disobeys his parents and take her away to the country to protect her from bad influences.” (Retrospective Brochure).

The film opens with a two-shot of Anders and Gerd in a car travelling along a wooded road. We then watch two flashbacks, one first by Anders and then one by Gird. This fills in the background to the young couple’s journey. Anders parents seem middle class and clearly disapprove of his girlfriend Gerd; the mother has particular worries, the father is slightly more tolerant. Anders himself worries about Gerd and one night follows her when she is out and is arrested by police near the docks. In Gerd’s flashback we learn that she has been promiscuous and that on this occasion she has been with two older men on a moored ship. When Gerd is released Anders takes his father’s car, [without permission] and drives with Gerd into the country. He is aiming for an old partly ruined cabin in wooded hills which he has found on country outings with his father.

Anders is experienced in country walking and properly equipped; Gerd is inexperienced and dressed inappropriately, heeled shoes for one. Anders does not seem to have given any thought to this. The couple park the car and hike up into the hills. This is some way and they have to sleep out in the open. Next day they arrive at the old cabin. It is some state of disrepair as is a nearby barn, but the couple soon make themselves at home. Now there is one of those rural idylls found in Scandinavian cinema. They walk in the open, enjoy the sunshine and nude bathing. Whilst not explicit it seems clear that the couple are sleeping together and having sex.

Anders has bought limited supplies. After a few days they illicitly dig up potatoes from a field lower in the woods. This minor offence is followed by a major one when they kill a sheep from the flock grazing in the open.

This is followed by the arrival of an older man Bendik (Rolf Søder), a hunter carrying a rifle. Bendik seems almost to have been called forth by the crime of killing a sheep. He is experienced in wood craft, skinning the freshly killed sheep. He is also uninhibited by any moral code, involving the young couple into a break-in in a store at the village lower down. He is also taken with Gerd, who seems to reciprocate. These various dramatic strands including Anders jealousy, the investigation of the theft and the concerns of the parents back in Oslo come together in a climax.

The plot includes a number of conventional elements. As a ‘youth exploitation’ film it offers pop music, sex, and generational conflict. But it has unusual sexual frankness, and as the Brochure notes,

“Unlike American [USA) teen films about juvenile delinquents, Edith Calmar’s tenth feature is sympathetic to the plight of an adolescent who is as vivacious as she is fragile.”

In fact the film is generally sympathetic to all the conflicted characters. The parents emerge as more caring, even Anders’ mother, than they appear at first glance. Bendik, who is actually a wanted criminal, is less exploitative and more helpful that he first seems. Even the authorities are not completely judgemental on the couple.

The disruption of the youth idyll by the arrival of an older and more knowledgeable man is also conventional. But the film’s sympathetic treatment ensures that the plot does not just follow a predictable course, though the film does manage a positive resolution to the drama.

The film involves contrasts between the city and the countryside. The city is fairly conventional in the representation. The home of Anders and his parents is conventionally and comfortably middle class. Gerd’s home is the opposite, lacking in comfort and any sense of stability. Gerd has a bunk bed in an alcove rather than her own room. Her bed is overlooked by a number of pin-ups. These include Louis Jourdan and [more notable] Brigitte Bardot. The scenes at the dock are darker and the sequence where Gerd dances for two men in a cabin has a definite transgressive quality.

Contrast is also created between present and past. The flashbacks, starting right at the opening of the film, are very important. We learn first about Anders and only later about Gerd’s backstory. And it is much later in the film that flashbacks fill our the viewpoint of the parents and in Gerd’s case of a sympathetic social worker.

The film is very effective. The cinematography by Sverre Bergli emphasises this contrast and, as in common in Scandinavian films, provides excellent location filming with a strong sense of nature.

“escape into a utopia of a Scandinavian summer”.

The film editing is fairly conventional for the period but the criss-cross between present and past works extremely well. The settings, both of locations and in a studio, are convincing. The film uses a fairly typical sound track, including at some points actual popular music.

The director, Edith Calmar, controls this in a effective manner. We had an introduction before the film and the point was made that her early films tended to be ‘dark realist dramas’. There followed a series of social comedies but this film returned to the social problem context. Whilst the film is predominantly conventional and generic the touches of sympathy and characterisations give it a distinctive feel.

The cast serve the story well. Atle Merton as Anders and Rolf Søder as Bendik are completely convincing. Liv Ullman’s Gerd is the central character. In her first leading role she catches the wilful but often spontaneous misbehaviour with conviction. The visual treatment of her character at time mirrors the representation found in Bardot’s films; which presumably is deliberate. The Brochure quotes one critic who was less enamoured with this approach;

“Her face is lively and expressive, and she has sex. It is quite superfluous for Edith Calmar to put so much emphasis on her breasts and thighs. She has more subtle and significant means at her disposal.” (Leif Borthen in an Oslo Daily ‘Verdens Gang’.)

The film was scripted by Otto Calmar and adapted from a novel by Nils Johan Rud, ‘Ettersøkte er 18 år’ (1958); literally ‘Wanted is 18 Years’; the film’s alternative title is ‘Young Escape’. Rud wrote novels, short stories and children’s books and also edited a magazine. The novel presumably picked up on the new ‘youth culture’ and social apprehensions around this. It is interesting to wonder if the novel had the same sympathetic treatment.

The film was restored by the National Library of Norway, Oslo in 2018. The main source was the original negative scanned at 4k into a 4K DCP, with the soundtrack digitally restored. So we had a good quality screening to enjoy. This is the first film directed by Edith Calmar that I have seen. I look forward to seeing more, especially the early films.

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