Laila (1929) Film Review

Laila (1929) Film Review
Nearly a century separates the productions of “Laila” (1929) and “Sami Blood” (2016), but both films use the tension between the indigenous Sami people and their Nordic neighbors to power the narrative. While “Sami Blood” is an example of realism in cinema, “Laila” uses the conventions of melodrama to elucidate a social issue; common practice in the silent era. Another key difference is that the eponymous Laila, while raised by Sami (or Lapp) parents, is Norwegian by birth. Both films, however, examine their characters through a historical lens and are set in earlier time periods.

“Laila” is based on a novel published by Jens Andreas Friis in 1881. Friis was a Norwegian academic who studied the Lapp culture. “Laila”, the novel, reflects the didactic motivations of its author. The film, adapted and directed by George Schneevoigt, is more interested in the characters and their emotions. The story begins when Norwegian merchant Lind and his wife set off to have their baby daughter baptized. Along the way, they are pursued by a pack of wolves and the child is lost. Jampa (Tryggve Larssen) discovers the child and takes her to Aslag Laagje (Peter Malberg). Laagje and his wife, wealthy Lapp reindeer herders, adopt the infant and christen her Laila.

There are a number of plot twists and Laila is returned to her parents but orphaned when the plague hits her village. Jampa rescues her and she matures as a member of Laagje’s family. As a young woman, Laila (Mona Martenson) is expected to marry her foster brother Mellet (Henry Gleditsch). Complications ensue when she meets and falls in love with a Norwegian man, Anders (Harald Schwenzen). Unbeknownst to both of them, he is actually her cousin.

“Laila” features stunning vistas of Norwegian fjords and snow-covered mountains, as well as creative camerawork from the intrepid Danish cinematographer Valdemar Christensen. (There are a number of exciting chase scenes on skis and reindeer-pulled sleds.) When comparing “Laila” to “Sami Blood”, the relationship of the rural Lapps to their more settled and urban neighbors (Norwegians in “Laila”, Swedes in “Sami Blood”), is more harmonious in the earlier film. The merchant Lind has no problem socializing with the Lapp clan leader Laagje. The men drink and converse easily. The Norwegians, while they may find some of the Lapp’s customs quaint, do not refer to them in derogatory terms. The only cultural taboo seems to be intermarriage between the two peoples.

Tellingly, Anders plans to marry Laila even before he discovers her true identity. Laagje, initially furious than Laila rejects her foster brother, softens and offers financial support to the young couple. So “Laila” ends on a more hopeful note than “Sami Blood”. Both films show their young heroines struggling to find a middle ground between the two cultures. It is apparently difficult to find a society at any time that does not demand an individual choose a side.

“Laila” is available on DVD with Norwegian and English intertitles. I watched the film at my own expense. Review posted on 10/7/2018.



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Sami Blood Film Review

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