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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable Double Feature From One Of The World's Great Directors., August 5, 2008
By 
Chip Kaufmann (Asheville, NC United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Man There Was / Ingeborg Holm (Double Feature) (DVD)
In conjunction with its release of THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE, Kino International has also given us this splendid double bill from Victor Sjostrom (Seastrom in America) who was truly one of the world's great directors. His influence on other Scandinavian filmmakers (Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer to name two of the best known) is clearly evident although with INGEBORG HOLM (1913) you could say he influenced many others as well. This film is incredibly well made for a film of its vintage. Although the camerawork is first rate it's the restrained naturalistic style of the acting by star Hilda Borgstrom along with the seriousness of the thematic material that really makes you sit up and take notice. D.W. Griffith had explored social themes in his Biograph shorts before this but never in a feature length film and similar socially concious movies like TRAFFIC IN SOULS (also 1913) were not as dramatically sophisticated. The story of a widow whose husband leaves her bankrupt and is forced to live in a workhouse where she must give up her children to foster parents, works as both social indictment and dramatic tragedy. It's hard to watch this film and not become emotionally involved in the plight of the title character. The score by David Drazin is simple but effective using primarily piano with a few synthesized strings.

The other film on the disc, A MAN THERE WAS, dates from 1917 and is based on an epic poem (TERJE VIGEN) from the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen (PEER GYNT). The English title cards are even an approximation of his poetic writing style which may be tough going for some but they add quite a bit to the visual narrative. Full of lots of natural location shooting including the open sea, MAN explores a variety of powerful emotions as a fisherman during the Napoleonic Wars is wrongfully imprisoned which results in the death of his family. Many years after his release he is presented with the opportunity of saving the family of the man who sent him to prison. Donald Sosin's piano score is very effective especially during the sea sequences but it would have been nice to have a chamber or orchestral score to accompany the film. Nevertheless this is an important set from one of the great early film pioneers and as such should not be missed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two brilliant pre-1920 Swedish films!, August 1, 2008
This review is from: A Man There Was / Ingeborg Holm (Double Feature) (DVD)
After viewing these two excellent Swedish silent films from the early days of cinema, I have come to agree with many critics and film historians who believe that Victor Sjostrom might well have been one of the few true pioneers and great directors, even before DW Griffith made his mark on the American film industry. Watching the second feature film on this disc, namely "Ingeborg Holm" which was filmed in 1913 - just a year after full-length feature films began to be made - really made this point clear to me. The film shows remarkable sophistication and depth of characterization, as well as skillful photography and editing which made it feel like I was watching a film from a later period when these aspects of cinematography were more advanced and developed. In fact, the drama of the story is so gripping and heart-rending, involving the viewer so emotionally, that any rawness in style or the few short scenes which show some deterioration in the film are easily overlooked. Ingeborg Holm becomes a widow and struggles to raise her children in an unforgiving and merciless social system which lands her in a workhouse for the poor and her children `boarded out' to foster families. It is a scenario which sadly repeated itself many times in the earlier years of last century, as can be seen from similar themes of early silent films, making this film also something of an historic record of times past. And it's no surprise that "Ingeborg Holm" was a landmark and turning point in Victor Sjostrom's career as a director, but before motion pictures came along, he had been involved in theatre for over a decade, which no doubt laid the foundation for his understanding of drama, acting and conveying characters and their emotions to the audience.

In the first feature film on this disc, Sjostrom directs and also plays the lead role in "A Man There Was", for which he also received high acclaim, particularly for his use of outdoor photography and his penchant for capturing the wild beauty of landscapes as a backdrop to the characters' lives and problems. Based on an epic Scandinavian poem set in the early 1800s, this is also a sad and dramatic story of hardship and tragedy resulting in the struggle and ultimate triumph of the human spirit. Set during a war which affects even small coastal fishing towns, a man is captured by the enemy while trying to get food for his wife and small child, then imprisoned for 5 years which fills him with hate and revenge for the enemy. The intertitles are in the original poetic language, in English and easy to read, adding to the historic and artistic elements of this story, as well as realistically conveying the scenery and way of life in that part of the world in that era. As well as the personal plight of the main character, there are realistic and quite riveting action scenes on ships and on water which also stand out as being sophisticated for its year of 1917. Sjostrom's acting and directing skills were complemented by photographer Julius Jaenzon, who is counted among the half-dozen great Swedish talents and pioneers of the Scandinavian Golden Age of cinema, before German Expressionism took over the world stage in the 1920s. These two films, along with "The Outlaw and his Wife" on the partner-DVD in this new Kino release, show why Victor Sjostrom - or Seastrom - as he was named in the US, was such an important figure on the worldwide scene of early cinema and its development. Perhaps a good orchestral score would have enhanced this fine old films even more, but the piano accompaniment for both is excellent nevertheless, and the picture quality near perfect most of the time, making this DVD a treat for those who find pre-1920 films particularly fascinating for the stories they tell, their style and also their historic significance.
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A Man There Was / Ingeborg Holm (Double Feature)
A Man There Was / Ingeborg Holm (Double Feature) by Victor Sjostrom (DVD - 2008)
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