Films past

Beyond the Light: Identity and Place in Danish Silent Cinema

Lasse Månsson fra Skaane

SAT—March 18—1 PM
$10 ($5 ASF Members)

Presented at Scandinavia House on the occasion of the exhibition Beyond the Light: Identity and Place in Nineteenth-Century Danish Art, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from January 26 through April 16, 2023, join us for an afternoon of Danish silent cinema curated by Prof. Vito Adriaensens (Columbia University | Université libre de Bruxelles).

Beyond the Light investigates how Danish artists forged a close-knit community during a 19th century that saw the once-powerful Denmark reduced to a small, somewhat marginalized country at the edge of Europe. The disastrous fallout of the Napoleonic Wars, the devastating bombardment of Copenhagen, bankruptcy, and mounting antagonism with Germany nevertheless gave rise to a vibrant cultural and philosophical environment for Danish artists, as seen in the exhibition’s drawings, sketches, and oil paintings focusing on notions of place, identity and belonging, and what it meant to travel and return home for Danish artists.

During this time, Danish cinema was navigating identity on the world stage as well. An artistic charge led by the Nordisk Films Kompagni and stars such as Asta Nielsen, Betty Nansen, and Valdemar Psilander put Danish cinema on the map, making the small country a world-renowned player in a matter of years. This was achieved by creating worlds and stories that were devoid of Scandinavian specificity, allowing the films to be accessible in the whole of the Western world, while playing up the talents of Danish actors and the painterly sensibilities of its filmmakers in their advertising. When the First World War decimated Europe and its film production, American film companies stepped in, and smaller countries defaulted to local markets and local stories — ironically, this made them stand out even more.

In today’s program, see two visually striking silent films by Anders Wilhelm Sandberg for the Nordisk Films Kompagni —  Lasse Månsson fra Skaane (Struggling Hearts) and Fra Piazza del Popolo (Mists of the Past) — and hear a talk by Prof. Vito Adriaensens exploring the cinema of this era.


1 PM: Lasse Månsson fra Skaane (Struggling Hearts; A.W. Sandberg, 1923, Nordisk Films Kompagni, 80 min.)

Set during the Dano-Swedish War (1658-1660), Struggling Hearts explores love in wartime. When a Danish family’s farm on Falster is looted and wrecked by Swedish soldiers passing through, the family nevertheless takes up care for a wounded soldier who stays behind. The soldier, Lasse, falls in love with the farmer’s daughter, Anna, but their love seems doomed amidst the fiery conflict between the two Kingdoms. Lasse Månsson’s period setting and chiaroscuro cinematography transform it into a living Rembrandt painting.

With Poul Reumert, Olga d’Org, Frederik Jacobsen, Marie Dinesen. Based on the eponymous 1903 novel by P. Fr. Rist.

2:30 PM: Talk Beyond the Light: Identity and Place in Danish Silent Cinema

Discussion by Prof. Vito Adriaensens.

3:15 PM: Fra Piazza del Popolo (Mists of the Past; A.W. Sandberg, 1925, Nordisk Films Kompagni, 107 min.)

Mists of the Past takes us where all self-respecting artists went in the nineteenth century: Rome. The film starts in 1830, with the love story of promising sculptor Olaf and his model, Sigrid, who is also the daughter of his wealthy benefactor. Their love burns bright, but their class difference tears them apart. The tragic fallout of their brief passion affects the next generation, from Copenhagen to the Danish countryside, and back to Rome, where history is dying to repeat itself. Mists of the Past takes us on a beautifully photographed journey into the decadent excesses of the European aristocracy, for whom backstabbing, intrigue, and murder are just part of the lifestyle.

With Olaf Fønss, Henny Geermann, Einar Hanson, Lilian Järnefeldt. Based on the eponymous 1866 novel by Vilhelm Bergsøe.

About the Curator

Vito Adriaensens is a scholar and filmmaker. He is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University, a researcher at the Université libre de Bruxelles, and an instructor at cinema-arts non-profit Mono No Aware.

He is a co-author of Screening Statues: Sculpture and Cinema, and the author of the forthcoming Velvet Curtains and Gilded Frames: The Art of Early European Cinema.