Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Hunt (1959)

Director: Erik Løchen                                     Writer: Erik Løchen
Film Score: Erik Løchen                                 Cinematography: Tore Breda Thoresen
Starring: Rolf Søder, Bente Børsum, Tor Stokke and Olarf Havrevold

The Hunt (Jakten) is a Norwegian film that was released the same year as François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, but this is a very different kind of film. It has a certain realism, yes, but it is also fairly experimental in that it breaks the fourth wall and has the actors talking directly to the camera, both out loud and in voiceover. The film is not only written and directed by Erik Løchen, but he composed the film score as well. He was a jazz musician as well as an experimental filmmaker, and though his output was relatively small--directing only two films and writing a third--his work had a profound effect on filmmaking in Norway. As with Truffaut, this was Løchen’s debut as a feature filmmaker, adding new elements to an already firmly established Norwegian style of cinema. While having his actors talk to the audience directly was something unique for filmgoers of the time, the elements of the film where the characters’ thoughts seem to be conversing with each other had been done previously in Tancred Ibsen’s The Mysterious Apartment (Den hemmelighetsfulle leiligheten) from 1948.

The opening credits follow a car as it heads down the road to the accompaniment of a jazz quintet. When the film begins, it begins at the end, with a coffin being taken down from the countryside to the village. A constable tells the camera that there are two men and one woman involved in an accidental shooting. Suddenly the three of them appear onscreen one at a time, Rolf Søder and Tor Stokke with their rifles, and Bente Børsum taking a snapshot of them posing, as the narrator takes us back to the beginning. He tells the audience that Børsum is the lover of Stokke but she emphatically tells the camera it’s not true, followed by Søder saying she’s lying. As the hunt goes on the story of the love triangle unfolds, with the audience gradually learning how the conflict between the two men came about. In this way the hunt itself acts as a metaphor. Instead of a hunting ground, the wilderness has become a battleground where the two men will fight over the woman. A duel. By the final day of the hunt, Børsum compares the tension to an abscess that needs to be lanced. The end of the hunt is absolutely shocking, but nothing compared to the coda that completes the film.

The narrative itself is rather unique, with the film beginning after the accident and then returning to the beginning of the hunt, with the relationship between the three principals being related in flashbacks throughout. Bente Børsum, as the center of the triangle, appeared in several Norwegian feature films in the seventies before transitioning into television for the most of the rest of her career. She does a nice job here, in her first film, playing an enigma. The audience doesn’t really know where her loyalties lie which is the point of the screenplay, and this allows the viewer to be pulled in different directions depending on which of the other actors is vying for her at the moment. Rolf Søder is fascinating, sullen and angry in the hunting sequence, and yet jovial and in control during the flashbacks. Baby faced Tor Stokke completes the triangle, confident that he has the upper hand in winning the affections of Børsum. What complicates matters more is that, through the flashbacks, it’s clear that the three of them are best friends and the competition over her threatens to tear all three of them apart. The cinematography by Tore Breda Thoresen is a crisp black and white that nevertheless manages to convey the immense beauty and isolation of the landscape. The film was also nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival that year. The Hunt is considered by many critics to be the greatest Norwegian film of all time, and it’s easy to see why. The experimental nature of the narrative which still delivers an entertaining and satisfying viewing experience is a rare combination and the film comes highly recommended.

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