Anna-Liisa (1922)

Finland / 49 minutes / bw silent / Suomi-Filmi Dir: Teuvo Puro, Jussi Snellman Pr: Erkki Karu Scr: Jussi Snellman Story: Anna Liisa (1895 play) by Minna Canth Cine: Kurt Jäger, A.J. Tenhovaara Cast: Helmi Lindelöf, Emil Autere, Einar Rinne, Mimmi Lähteenoja, Hemmo Kallio, Meri Roini, Greta Waahtera, Axel Ahlberg, Tauno Ensio Järvinen.

A silent melodrama that could be seen, I suppose, as holding some ancestral place in the family tree of Finnish film noir, at least thematically: because of an old and hushed-up crime, the protagonist is cast into an archetypal noir abyss of inescapable guilt . . .

Anna-Liisa - 1 Anna-Liisa is only too willingly seduced by Mikko

Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelöf) is only too willingly seduced by Mikko (Einar Rinne).

In a remote part of Finland, Anna-Liisa Kortesuo (Lindelöf) is planning to marry Johannes Kivimaa (Autere), the somewhat milksop employee of her jovial father (Kallio). But Anna-Liisa has a secret. Years ago she dallied with farm laborer Mikko (Rinne). When he went off to seek his fortune, she discovered she was pregnant by him; immediately after the child was born she killed it in a panic, and Mikko’s mother, Husso (Lähteenoja), helped her dispose of the body. Now Mikko has returned, having made a success of himself, and wants Anna-Liisa back. Yet she rebuffs him forcefully, preferring Johannes. It’s then that the truth starts coming out, and Anna-Liisa is forced to live with her shame—and with the prospect of spending the rest of her life in prison.

Anna-Liisa - 4 Husso eggs on her son Mikko to reclaim Anna-Liisa

The cackling Husso (Mimmi Lähteenoja) eggs on her son Mikko (Einar Rinne) to reclaim Anna-Liisa.

Anna-Liisa - 3 Anna-Liisa consumed by guilt

Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelöf) is consumed by guilt.

The tale is fleshed out by a number of minor characters: in addition to Anna-Liisa’s father there are her mother (Roini) and her kid sister Pirkko (Waahtera)—who has the kind of adorable mischievous impishness that makes you want to smack her one upside the head—plus the pastor (Ahlberg) who’s planning to marry Anna-Liisa and Johannes. The narrative isn’t strictly linear, being punctuated by a number of flashbacks to the amour between Anna-Liisa and Mikko; the treatment works well, and is quite sophisticated for its era. The attempts at symbolic subtext seem less successful, as when Anna-Liisa and Mikko, together in more innocent times, play with a pet lamb, and when Pirkko undergoes a dream sequence for no particular reason.

Anna-Liisa - 2 Pirkko, Johannes, Anna-Liisa's dad

Little sister Pirkko (Greta Waahtera), Anna-Liisa’s suitor Johannes Kivimaa (Emil Autere), and the girls’ father (Hemmo Kallio).

Minna Canth (1844–1897), who wrote the original play, is a figure of some note in Finnish literature. In 2007 she became the first woman to be honored in her native Finland by a flag day (March 19, her birthday); it’s an honor bestowed by the Finns on only a select few, including such celebrated figures as Jean Sibelius (December 8).

The set of subtitles I found had clearly been through a translation program at some stage, and I discovered myself scratching my head occasionally as I puzzled something out. The one truly unfortunate bit of machine translation occurred during a moment of high emotional climax as a delusional Anna-Liisa, staggering into the local lake in quest of the spirit of her dead child, cries piteously something along the lines of: “Little one! Mother is here!” This came out as “Shorty, is already Mom!”

Anna-Liisa - 5 it's all over for Anna-Liisa and her dreams of happiness (clockwise Anna-Liisa's Mom, Johannes, Husso)

It’s all over for Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelöf) and her dreams of happiness. Other cast members here, clockwise from Anna-Liisa’s fainting form, are her mama (Meri Roini), Johannes (Emil Autere) and Husso (Mimmi Lähteenoja).


6 thoughts on “Anna-Liisa (1922)

  1. Wow, Canth is in a league with the great Sibelius with that rare award! In any case this relic does have a fascinating premise, and my site colleague Allan Fish has informed he owns a print, though without English subs unfortunately. At least you have some, even if compromised. Outstanding essay on a true rarity. Nice captures too!

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