Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Elvira Madigan

Pretty and romantic and sweet and sad... but I couldn't get into this love story.

Elvira Madigan tells the (true) tragic story of Danish tightrope-walker Hedvig Jensen (stage name Elvira Madigan), and her lover Sixten Sparre; deserter of the Danish army. The two run away together, and find themselves penniless and starving, but happy in love as they make their way through the beautiful Danish countryside, evading their pursuers, making friends and enemies along the way.

The film opens with the two of them together, sitting in a field. He has a razor and mirror with him, and shaves off his beard in an attempt to disguise himself, as they are planning to run away together. This takes a while, as he pauses halfway through to finish making love, but once relieved of his facial hair and libido they set off.

Inexplicably, though she has a more distinctive look and a higher public profile, they make no attempt to change her appearance. Plus, after spending the entire scene pulling the gold lining off his military coat so that it looks more like civilian clothing, he inexplicably hangs it around a scarecrow's shoulders, in a most conspicuous fashion. This is the first of many careless mistakes the two make.

This, I suppose, is the epitomy of being carefree in love.

I watched this for a film and music class, and the music is definitely an important element. The film repeats one phrase from Mozarts Piano Concerto No. 21; a gentle, uplifting melody emblematic of their love, and the joy they feel, and lightheartedness and stuff. It repeats it at every sweet little moment they have together.

Over and over.

For the whole hour and a half.

It's very interesting actually. You become acutely aware of where their relationship is at based on whether or not the music is present. When Sixten meets his old army friend and spends the day with him; no music. When Elvira is angry a Sixten; no music. Until they make up; cue the Concerto to the love scene. As the film unfolds (and the plot is not quite as boring as I've made it sound), you start to realize that you are hearing the music less and less. It's a real and effective indicator that things are heading downhill.

As they hurtle towards a tragic ending (it's not surprising; it tells you what's going to happen in the opening titles), you start to miss the music, and what it means to them (and it is a very fine piece of music). It comes back one final time; this time as a bittersweet requiem for the better times they spent together, and a farewell to the beauty of their love that ended in tragedy.

So, the film is effective in what it's trying to accomplish.

I had a few problems with the plot of this film. I think the main one is that the "cheating on partner for the sake of true love" trope makes me mad. Sixten, it turns out, has deserted not just the army, but a wife with two children! Elvira knows about this... and always tries not to think about how they might be feeling. Carefree in love, and totally self absorbed; forgetting about everyone else.

To be fair, the film tries it's best to make us forget about them too. They're never shown on screen, rarely mentioned, and the smallest indication that they might be suffering is quickly passed off as a lie. The film doesn't try to deal with the heartbreak Sixten's new-found love has caused; just love. Love is a blissful, and splendid thing. Until it makes you forget how to eat.

So this combination of the illegitimacy of their affair, combined with their general foolishness (Spending their last money on cream and berries for a picnic! Leaving a trail of clues for people to follow them with!), just made me cranky at the pair for most of the movie.

I'll try not to be too cynical about it: Elvira Madigan is a nicely put together film, and very pleasant to watch and calmly enjoy. But if those kind of details nag at you like they do at me, then perhaps just give it a miss.