The White Reindeer Review
The directorial debut of Finnish cinematographer Erik Blomberg, The White Reindeer is deemed one of world cinema’s criminally under-seen masterpieces. A vampiric fairy-tale set amongst the starkly beautiful fells of Finnish Lapland, Blomberg combines an almost documentary filming style with avant-garde experimentation to produce a dreamy art-house horror film without compare.
The White Reindeer comes from Masters of Cinema in a 4K restoration and is a beautiful black and white, almost documentary style shot Nordic vampiric fairy tale. Star Mirjami Kuosmanen, married to director Erik Blomberg, who co-wrote the movie (with her husband) stars as Pirita. Pirita becomes frustrated and lonely as her reindeer herder husband is off herding, and in order to spice up her love life she turns to a Sharman to give her a love potion, to make her irresistible to her husband and other men. But it turns out that Pirita is actually a witch, which is told in song over the opening credits, and the potion turns her into a shapeshifter thirsty for blood. She had been told by the Sharman that she needs to kill the first living thing she sees, which turns out to be her own White Reindeer, and in doing so, Pirita turns into a White Reindeer who lures men away into the wilderness, before draining them of their blood.
Coming at a time where Finland didn’t really have any genre films, The White Reindeer plays with a style of Nordic cinema, Sami Gothic Cinema, that has not really been explored since. It was an cinematic oddity when it was released in 1952, and still feels like an oddity today. The film grapples with the themes of gender inequality, sexual desires, sexual anxiety and society pressures and the look and style that Blomberg has brought to this work mixes documentary with experimental filmmaking, with non actors portraying many of the parts. Shooting in black and white against the snow scapes of Lapland, his cinematography makes the most of his beautifully stark scenery.
Star Kuosmanen is alluring as Pirita and the way that Blomberg has photographed his wife, especially with the light and shadows of the night photography, lighting from below to emphasise Pirita's vampiric state is beautiful and reminded me of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, echoing the look of Barbara Steele in that film.
The film is short, 68 minutes, and almost plays out like a silent movie, with very little dialogue. The music veers from Sami authenticity, to silent music styled music, to almost sounding like a 1950’s Disney movie. It was reminiscent in places to the Charlie Chaplin Modern Times score. I felt at times the score was chilling, but at other times it took away from the darkness of the piece.
It is clear that the story echoes a lot of fairy tales, and follows the same structure of a lot of Werewolf stories. It has a classic feel to it, with a classic beautiful 1.37:1 frame that is filled with wonderful imagery.
All in all, this is a beautiful presentation of an oddity of a film. The Bluray/DVD combo is stacked with features.
The commentary by Diabolique Magazine Editor Kat Ellinger is packed with interesting information about the making of the film. The Video Essay by Amy Simmons is also very interesting and gave more information about Nordic witch cinema that was engaging as was the short about Reindeer herders by Blomberg. While the colour test footage is nice to have, it is good that the film wasn’t shot in colour, as it would’ve ruined it. The Jussi award footage is filler.
- Limited Edition O Card Slipcase [2000 copies ONLY]
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration completed in 2017 by the National Audio-visual Institute of Finland
- LPCM audio (original mono presentation)
- Optional English subtitles
- Feature Length Audio Commentary by critic and film historian Kat Ellinger
- Religion, Pleasure, and Punishment: The Portrayal of Witches in Nordic Cinema a new and exclusive video essay by film journalist and writer Amy Simmons
- With The Reindeer Erik Blomberg s 1947 documentary short
- Colour Test Footage
- 1952 Jussi Awards Ceremony featurette
- Reversible Sleeve
- A collector s booklet featuring new writing by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and journalist Philip Kemp