In discussing her auspicious second feature film in the DVD's thematically edited interview segments, Liv Ullman labels Sigrid Undset's Lavransdatter trilogy as an extremely popular series, which crossed age barriers, and made the film successful during its original, native theatrical run.
To Ullman, the movie is an organic creation that began with heavy research and discussions for the writer/director; exposing actors to the ancient practices, lifestyles, and beliefs of the script's characters; and establishing a trusting relationship between the cast, director, and the cinematographer. Once editing commenced, the film was shaped into a living thing, dodging the subjective nit-picking of onlookers, producers, actors, passersby, and test screenings, the latter of which not only could dilute the voice of the director, but the words of the novel's author as well.
Taking these views into account, alongside Ullman's own acting background, one can see why "Kristin Lavransdatter" remains a particularly tough film to watch for North American audiences; the costumes, locations, and Sven Nykvist's cinematography strive for a naturalism that's faithful not only to the novel, but Ullman's own efforts to extract and capture real-time emotions from her cast.
Of course Ullman's approach, like that of any actor-director, is a subjective blend of things tried and learned from a lengthy career on both side of the camera; the interview, bio notes, and DVD booklet are pretty fair about that. What's missing in this presentation, though, is a deeper cultural analysis of stylistic choices within the film that were clearly affected by Undset and Ullman's Norwegian cultural heritage.
Even for fans of Ingmar Bergman's most flawed and indulgent works ("The Serpent's Egg" being a biggie), "Kristin Lavransdatter" isn't an easy film to digest in one solid sitting, and the decision to avoid a comparative segment between the stylistic differences and influences between Ullman and Bergman may have been a conscious effort by the DVD's producers to let Ullman's film stand on its own. The lack of deeper cultural explications, however, means some scenes - particularly those of wrought, emotional intensity, like a mournful father unleashing his fury at a miscreant timber log - may suffer when viewed by filmgoers seeking a more traditional historical drama; in place of grandly filmed sequences and bouts of kinetic action, Ullman's vision is a more nuanced emotional epic that begs additional critical and social appraisal.
That said, HVE's transfer is taken from a fairly clean print, with a gently ambient stereo mix. Though billed as a "restored director's cut," there aren't any notes explaining exactly what befell the movie beyond its Nordic borders, so one wonders if the classification is more cosmetic.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan