Friday, September 25, 2009

The Tragedy of Elina

Here are some clips (in Finnish, with English subtitles) from a 1938 film adaptation of Gustaf von Numers' play, Elinan Surma (1891). The story is based on an old Finnish ballad published in the Kanteletar. In the traditional poem, Klaus Kurki, a medieval Finnish nobleman, marries a young girl beneath his rank, the beautiful, innocent Elina. His jealous ex-mistress Kirsti convinces him that his bride is unfaithful, and Klaus takes revenge by burning her alive, along with her supposed lover Uolevi.

The basic plot is retained in Von Numers' play, although with various changes, putting an ideological "spin" on the story. A new character, a smirking, greedy parish priest exemplifies the anti-Catholic theme in Lutheran Finnish literature. Furthermore, the adaptation also seems (although Von Numers was himself a nobleman) to echo the anti-aristocratic trends of the period. The villain, Kirsti, presented as Klaus' housekeeper in the traditional ballad, appears here as a daughter of the famed house of Fleming, and as Klaus' sister-in-law (via his previous marriage to Kaarina Fleming). In her speeches, Kirsti evokes her family pride, bitter that the humbly born Elina has replaced her in Klaus' affections...

Setting the stage...

Later in the story, the priest hears the confessions of Elina and Klaus. (Elina is agonizing over whether to forget her childhood sweetheart Uolevi and marry the wealthy and influential Klaus in obedience to her ambitious parents. Klaus, meanwhile, after a life of sin, wants to achieve redemption through a pure love and marriage with the innocent Elina). The anti-Catholic theme is glaringly obvious in this part! We even see the Church victimizing a "reformer" (another completely new character not in the traditional ballad).

After the marriage. Kirsti's pride, plots and deception (I'm sorry, the film goes black for a while).

The tragic ending. Kirsti has tricked Uolevi and Elina into entering Klaus' chamber in his absence, locked them inside, and rushed off to Klaus with "proof of adultery," bringing on doom for all...The reformer, imprisoned in the castle, is given the last word.

A bit melodramatic, isn't it? Nonetheless, I think the portrayal of poor Elina is quite touching.

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