Kristin Lavransdatter Movie Review
Hardly known for her directorial abilities (though Faithless was passable), Ullmann's work here is pretty much rock bottom. Sigrid Undset's novel is a historical epic, following one Kristin Lavransdatter across a life in medieval Norway. Her dad is a wealthy landowner and wants to marry her off to the son of another local wealthy man. But Kristin has eyes on a lower-class man. These two tussle, Kristin ends up in a convent, then falls in love with a knight. The original fiancee tussles again with the new guy, and it all ends in hopeful despair. With elements of Moll Flanders and Romeo and Juliet (and not the good elements, mind you), Kristin tries to muddle a story together where one barely exists. How Undset got 1000 pages out of this is a mystery to me.
How Ullmann gets three hours out of it is an even bigger one. I hate to use this word in movie reviews because it sounds lazy, but Kristin Lavransdatter is incomprably boring. It isn't just that it's interminably long, it's that absolutely nothing interesting happens for the entire running time of the film. Even the big plot points -- which revolve around the vengeance Kristin's set-up fiancee brings down on her other suitors -- are uncommonly hard to get through. Ullmann makes her worst mistakes by even dealing with the death of a major character off camera; Kristin is simply told about it after the fact.
As Kristin, Elisabeth Matheson is hard to muster any sympathy for. She looks like a very handsome young boy, hardly the object of three men's lust. As a character, she's emotionally cold and often mute to the point where she may as well be dead, and in the end we don't much care who she ends up with, just that she ends things altogether.
Ullmann's recruiting of Scandinavian go-to guy Sven Nykvist as cinematographer is a possibly picture-saving deal, but even he can't salvage the soullessness of this movie. Where are the glorious panoramas, majestic castles, and fast-pace sword fights that are part and parcel of any good medieval epic? Not here, probably the victim of budget cuts so Ullmann could pad out the scenes of bedroom hair-tearing and bemoaning the meaninglessness of existence. The most cinematic Kristin ever gets is when we see her riding a horse as she mopes from one section of the film to another, invariably she's shot riding the horse with a forest directly behind her with a lake in the foreground -- every single time.
I can't imagine this film being enjoyed by even the most die-hard IKEA-phile. Believe it or not there are two more books in the Kristin series. Ullmann doesn't own the rights, so thankfully they are unlikely to ever see the light of day.