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Elina- Som om jag inte fanns
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by Greg Muskewitz

"... just a sweet story focusing on the dimension of people ..."
4 stars

Wholesome film for kids, with adult appeal, about a little girl (Natalie Minnevik) in 1952 Lapland, Sweden, who has just overcome consumption, the death of her father, and is itching to go back to school.

She’s a headstrong girl, and said to be foolish for following in her father’s footsteps, but she takes that as a complement as she clashes strong wills with her vengeful headmistress. (The teacher takes dutibound pleasure in her sadistic and condescending contribution to the students — punishment for speaking Finnish; she switches writing utensils from the left hand to the right. The character is richly subtle, with little details like denying to hold Elina’s hand as she enters the classroom for the first time.) Everything about the film is didactic and simplistic, but not to a fault. It’s a gentle, innocent story of character and general alienation from the people and society one is surrounded by. Elina has all the traits of a generic kid’s movie — the misunderstood heroine, the villainous headmaster, the friendly new teacher, the family’s impecunious background, etc. — but of the content itself, there isn’t much to rigidly adhere to that makes it a bad option. Director Klaus Härö isn’t so much trying to get a message across as he is caught up in this beautiful little tale, and the beauty in which he can tell it. The film is gorgeously photographed by Jarrko T. Laine (though the obligatory swelling score does get to be much), with rich colors, a steadfast camera, and an overall crisp image, making the most of Minnevik’s light complexion and flaxen hair. Apart from the lack of ornamentation (the only real stylistic choice is the framing device that keeps Elina’s imagining of her father, headless), it’s just a sweet story focusing on the dimension of people — little more than people-watching — and an overall teary affectionateness for its inhabitants, including the mean-spirited teacher who is able to admit her fault in the face of Elina’s indomitable will. The ability to do that, to humanize and make humble the obstacle-making villain, is a lesson (if we’re to get one out of it) that not many children’s films care, or are able, to do. And the film smartly ends at 77-minutes before exhausting its small premise. The cast is wonderful (Bibi Andersson as the headmistress, Henrik Rafaelsen as the new teacher), especially Minnevik and Tind Soneby (as Elina’s younger sister), whose innocence and calm natural abilities in front of the camera don’t suggest any of the attention-hungry and typically precocious aspects employed by most American child actors and characters. Finland’s official Oscar submission. With Marjaana Maijala and Peter Rogers.

[Absolutely to be seen.]

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originally posted: 02/06/04 07:50:55
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  24-Oct-2003 (NR)



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