Pan (1922)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/04/15 09:45:22

"Unusual, flawed, and ahead of its time."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2015 SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL: There were some weird theories being spun on the bus after this screening of "Pan", one of the relatively few films to come out of Norway during the silent era. That's okay; it's an odd movie that will occasionally try the patience of viewers looking for something out of the ordinary (which, admittedly, is nearly everybody going to a Norwegian silent movie at 10pm on a Saturday night). I mostly liked it, but of all the films at this festival, it's the one I'm least likely to recommend to my friends who don't already really like silent and/or foreign films.

After a brief introduction that says "this happened two years ago", the audience is given a proper introduction to Lt. Thomas Glahn (Hjalmar Fries Schwenzen), who lives in a cabin in the north of Norway and, being an excellent hunter, is able to live off the land with his dog Aesop. He's not a complete recluse, though, and becomes friends with Mack (Hans Bille), a local merchant, and as such acquainted with his daughter Edvarda (Gerd Egede-Nissen). Their attraction is immediate, but jealousy is not far behind, as Edvarda is also getting attention from the local doctor (Rolf Christensen) and Glahn has noticed the blacksmith's daughter Eva (Lillebil Ibsen).

Pan is a love story, though the introduction hints at something that doesn't last. It's got an air that isn't quite muted but which nevertheless seems to skip some of the high points one frequently sees and inverts others. And yet, for all that the emotional volume isn't turned up to the maximum, Glahn and Edvarda are having a frequently unnerving courtship, filled with jealousy, actions which admittedly are likely to raise more eyebrows now but were likely still off-putting ninety years ago (and others which seem utterly random), and oddly-reserved reactions. It is like watching two people who don't know how to be in love stumbling far worse than most who find themselves in such a situation.

It makes them interesting, though. Hjalmar Fries Schwenzen has the more typical role; it's not hard to extrapolate some sort of backstory for a former soldier who isolates himself and has difficulties with social interactions. It's one that would be especially easy to overdo in a silent film, but the actor finds a spot where Glahn can lean toward amiable or worrisome without throwing off the film's equilibrium, even after he makes it more definitive. Gerd Egede-Nissen maybe has the more interesting role, introducing Edvardaa as bright and outgoing, but really shining in the moments when there seems to be something off about Edvarda, especially when a bit of dialogue could either be a dry sense of humor or an extremely muted emotional response. They compliment each other in a natural way without having the right sort of emotional triggers to make it work.

That this comes across so well is an impressive feather in the cap of filmmaker Harald Schwenzen, primarily a stage actor who would appear in other films but never wrote or directed one again. It's really too bad; he and his cinematographers had great eyes, an early appreciation for how small gestures can be magnified by the big screen, and a confidence in leaving things unsaid. By all indications, Knut Hamsun's novel was a difficult one to adapt to a medium more suited to action than introspection, while the shoot was unusually ambitious, split between two continents with the African epilogue shot a year before the rest of the film.

That epilogue, unfortunately, really goes a long way toward sinking the movie. The Schwenzens are brothers, and the family resemblance is strong enough to make Harald casing himself in an uncredited but sizable role as a fellow hunter more confusing than intriguing. It also goes on for far too long - half was only recently found and this bit of unintentional editing may have been to the film's benefit, as there is enough of an independent story here that the meat of the film seems distant by the time it's over. It doesn't connect that well to the opening flash-forward, either.

I wouldn't be shocked if "Pan" were something of an acquired taste back in 1922, though the novelty of it probably garnered it a lot of attention in its native land. In 2015, that's even more the case to the point where I'm not sure many more than the most dedicated film fans will be interested. They should see it, though; flawed as it is, it's frequently masterful and likely years ahead of its time.

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