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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Kristin Lavransdatter (1995)

"Now I know that if the act of lust cannot be atoned for, then heaven is an empty place."
- Kristin Lavransdatter (Elisabeth Matheson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 04, 2004

Stars: Elisabeth Matheson, Bjorn Skagestad, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Henny Moun, Jorgen Langhelle
Other Stars: Rut Tellefsen, Erland Josephson, Lena Endre, Svein Tindberg
Director: Liv Ullmann

Manufacturer: Ascent Media DVD
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (rape, violence, sensuality, nudity)
Run Time: 03h:07m:08s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 037429162620
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B+B+ C-

DVD Review

Sigrid Undset's sprawling novel cycle of medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter, was, like The Lord of the Rings, long considered unfilmable both for the epic scope and length of the tale, not to mention its status as a semi-sacred text in Norway. Undset won the 1928 Nobel Prize, primarily for this novel cycle, and such a work required special treatment. That came at the hands of frequent Bergman star Liv Ullmann, who both wrote and directed this adaptation of the book (primarily the first book of the cycle, though, rather than the entire thing).

On the wedding day of Kristin (Elisabeth Matheson), she reflects on how she came to this point, starting with flashbacks as a seven-year-old girl, through her teenage years and adulthood. As she learns about love and passion, things are derailed both by her rape by a priest and an arranged marriage to Simon Darre (Jorgen Langhalle). Although Simon quickly falls in love with Kristin, she is unable to reciprocate and enters a convent instead. But she catches a glimpse of bad boy Erland Nikulausson (Bjorn Skagestad), and soon passion erupts between the two of them. Unfortunately, he's already living with Eline (Lena Endre), a woman married to another man, and has two children by her. Kristin's father, Lavrans (Sverre Ander Ousdal), is outraged at this dishonor and refuses to release her from her betrothal vows to Simon.

The film is beautifully shot, with a good deal of lavish costuming set against the bleak but often lovely scenery of Norway. The design truly captures a vision of the time and place (though I offer no opinion as to its accuracy) and realizes it in first-rate manner. Unfortunately, the script is a bit disjointed and lacks a smooth flow. That may be due to time constraints—Ullmann had to cut about 30 minutes of material; in the accompanying interview she notes that the movie feels shorter when it's half an hour longer. Alas, this isn't a director's cut, which probably could have remedied this problem.

The acting is pretty good, with Matheson giving a credible portrait of a woman torn between mandatory piousness and her own sexuality, recognizing (though unable to do much about) the hypocrisy of the religious sentiment. She manages this through an unconscious awakening of sexual feelings in inappropriate settings, such as when she despairingly clutches a priest's legs, causing him to react with obvious sexual discomfort. The supporting cast is generally stronger than the lead, however, with Ousdal and Langhelle in particular turning in excellent performances. Skagestad's Erland starts off rather as a cipher, but in the last half hour we get a better glimpse into his character that helps make up for the thin representation earlier on.

Ullmann uses some interesting techniques throughout, most notably taking the picture and sound out of synch in order to give certain sequences a dreamlike quality. While some of the film is moving in its passion, and features a memorable romance, it takes a while to get going. But once it does, the examination of guilt and sin is certainly an interesting look into the Scandinavian mind.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The 1.78:1 aspect ratio is slightly cropped from the European 1.66:1, but in general the difference is fairly slight and not too problematic. In any event, Home Vision advises that the transfer is approved by Liv Ullmann herself, so apparently theclose cropping is intentionally present to convey a bit of claustrophobia. The transfer is quite attractive, with very good color and excellent detail. The texture of the fabrics is particularly noteworthy, and there's reasonably good shadow detail. On the down side, there is some edge enhancement and pans have a digital edge to them. The source print features persistent light scratches throughout several reels. If not forthat, this would rank an A-.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Norwegianno

Audio Transfer Review: Other than some hiss, the Dolby Surround track sounds quite good. The sounds of nature in the outdoor sequences are highly immersing, especially during rainstorms and among horses. The music is of a medieval cantus firmus variety (both genuine and pastiche), with a single low organ note set underchant. The organ goes down to surprisingly low depths for a disc notsporting a LFE track, though it's not particularly loud except at a few emotional moments. There's clear directionality (crackling fires appear inthe proper speaker to match the screen, for instance), and the Norwegian dialogue is generally quite crisp and clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:24m:01s

Extras Review: The most valuable extra is a fascinating 2001 interview with Ullmann (18m:18s), in which she discusses the making of the film, with comments on her own shifting perspectives on the source material. She also talks about directing actors as an actor herself, and getting subdued performances from them. She also touches on the phenomonon that the film was in Norway, where 75% of the entire population saw it. There's also a short set of production notes, a brief bio of Ullmann and a dupey, nonanamorphic widescreen trailer. The layer change is badly placed and rather halting, and the chaptering could be more generous: some chapters are more than a dozen minutes long. Oddly, the English subtitles default to "off," so American viewers may well end up having to back up to find out what the first few lines are.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Undset's novel hits the screen in a gorgeous adaption that features a good transfer of a somewhat damaged print. The audio's very nice and the extras are decent.


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