|Katrina poster from Svensk Filmdatabas.|
|Katrina poster from Nordic Film Posters.|
Katriina. SE 1943. PC: AB Svensk Filmindustri (Stockholm). P: Harald Molander. D: Gustaf Edgren. SC: Gustaf Edgren, Oscar Rydqvist – based on the novel (1936) by Sally Salminen (Katriina in Finnish). CIN: J. Julius [Julius Jaenzon]. AD: Arne Åkermark. Makeup: Arne Lundh, Börje Lundh. M: Gunnar Johansson. Soundtrack listing: see beyond the jump break. S: Sven Hansen. ED: Oscar Rosander.
C: Märta Ekström (Katrina Johansson), Frank Sundström (Johan Johansson, a sailor, her husband), Erik ”Hampe” Faustman (Einar Johansson, the eldest son of Katrina and Johan as a grown-up), George Fant (Gustaf Johansson, a son of Katrina and Johan as a grown-up), Birgit Tengroth (Saga Svensson, sales clerk / Mrs. Ekvall / finally Mrs. Johansson, Einar's wife), Erik ”Bullen” Berglund (Captain Zakarias Nordkvist), Henrik Schildt (Captain August Ekvall, shipowner), Kotti Chave (Einar's friend), Carl Deurell (Katrina's father), Linnéa Hillberg (Katrina's mother), Hugo Björne (a priest at the pier), Greta Berthels (Beda, an old maid at Nordkvist's), Torsten Hillberg (banker), Anna-Lisa Bruce (Serafia).
Shooting: 18.7.–11.9.1942. Location: Torö, Nynäshamn (Stockholm's southern archipelago). Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda).
Helsinki premiere: 10.10.1943 Maxim, distributor: Elokuvateatteri Maxim 1–2 – classification: 24845 – K16 – 2805 m / 103 min
A SFI Filmarkivet print, courtesy SF Studios, with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Sain roolin johon en mahdu / [I Was Cast in a Role I Had Outgrown] / Finland 100: Great Finnish Female Writers), 22 Feb 2017
Sally Salminen (1906–1976) was a Finnish writer who won the Nordic novel prize with her Swedish-language novel Katrina which takes places on the Åland islands. While Finland is bilingual, Åland is monolingual: Swedish is the only official language. There are a thousand islands on the Åland archipelago of which 60 are inhabited. Katrina takes place on Vårdö (called Torsö in the film) which belongs to the dozen or so main entities of Åland.
Katrina the novel was a big hit in Finland and Sweden, and it was translated into 20 other languages. More than that, it launched a genre of "women of the storm cliff" literature, another famous representative of which is Anni Blomqvist from Vårdö with her series of novels about Stormskärs-Maja / Myrskyluodon Maija / [Maja from the Storm Cliff].
Katrina has been filmed only once, in Sweden, directed by Gustaf Edgren, fondly remembered as a master of rural subjects such as Driver dagg, faller regn / Rain Follows the Dew. Katrina was shot in 1942, during WWII, when Finland was at war with the USSR, and filming on Åland was impossible. Thus Katrina was shot in the Stockholm archipelago.
However, Katrina retained its identity as a Finnish story, unlike Swedish adaptations of The Song of the Scarlet Flower. Even the language selection of speaking only Swedish is correct since the protagonist comes from the land of Ostrobothnia / Pohjanmaa / Österbotten on the west coast of Finland where Swedish is often dominant. The city of Brahestad / Raahe is a traditional seaport, and in the 19th century the shipowners of the city had the biggest sailing fleet of Finland. It is a plausible that Johan and Katrina meet at a dance in that area. No precise dates are given, but the children of the Johansson family are born in the 1890s.
Katrina is an independent spirit and the daughter of the richest farm in the neighbourhood but love is crazy and blind and so she follows the poor orphan sailor Johan to Åland despite the warnings and infinite disappointment of her parents. She is expecting to find a beautiful manor with an appleyard but instead discovers a poor shack where Johan has lived alone ever since his mother died when he was 6. This is too much for Katrina and she at once decides to leave, but a priest at the pier advises her to think it over.
Johan has to leave to the sea in the morning, and Katrina starts to face a life of hard work, cleaning the house which has never been cleaned, and working long hours at the turnip field of Captain Ekvall. Immediately there is a clash of spirits between Katrina and Captain Ekvall, Johan's boss. "People from Pohjanmaa cannot be bossed around like serfs". When Captain Ekvall raises his voice Katrina shows him the door. But the "greatest danger to women" is Captain Nordkvist. Both immediately learn that Katrina will not become their plaything. "Swine!" is her comment to their advances. (Johan is an illegitimate son of the Ekvalls, presumably of the previous generation).
Much of the narrative proceeds in montages and vignettes. There are work montages and montages of the growth of the family. Little Sandra dies in infancy. The youngest son Erik dies as a jungman in a shipwreck in the service of the Ekvall fleet, in a ship of questionable seaworthiness. The Johansson family is furious of the injustice under the Ekvall rule.
Johan is not in good health, and when he and Katrina sail to Mariehamn to a doctor they land into a storm, their boat topples, and this blow to Johan's health is fatal. The son Gustaf is in love with Saga, but Gustaf is enlisted to Australia by Captain Ekvall who during Gustaf's absence betroths Saga himself and soon weds her. Gustaf takes this very hard and disappears forever; we later hear that he is dead. But three months after the wedding Captain Ekvall dies, too. On his last night in Torsö-Vårdö Gustaf had slept with the local girl Serafia who 9 months later dies of childbirth; Katrina and Saga then take care of Gustaf's baby Greta.
Einar, Katrina's eldest son, is an earnest and and hard studying man, different from his fun-loving father and brother. He has sworn revenge to the Ekvalls; he is about to ruin them forever. But seeing the reconciliation of Katrina and Saga over Greta he resigns from his plan. "This is your greatest victory" states Katrina who has been ill at ease with her most successful son. Finally Einar marries Saga whom he has loved from the start, with the feeling reciprocated, but Einar had been too focused on his studies and too slow to act compared with the rivals.
When old Katrina visits Greta's student celebration in the finale she is a stranger to the party and soon draws off. We see a sunset, a ship sailing towards us, and Katrina falling into the big sleep.
Katrina the film is a solid matter-of-fact account of a remarkable life story, a life during a time of social change, and a change in the woman's role. Katrina belongs to the great Nordic tales of matriarchy. Men are officially in charge, but women like Katrina carry the continuity and responsibility of life.
The performances of the actors are very good. Märta Ekström as Katrina the woman from Ostrobothnia who can weather any hardship. Frank Sundström as the happy-go-lucky sailor who loses his spirit when his health fails. George Fant as his fun-loving son Gustaf who falls for the first time seriously in love and breaks his heart. Hampe Faustman as the unsmiling and determined Einar. Birgit Tengroth as Saga, the wonder woman of Åland. It is entirely plausible that all men fall for her.
I love the soundtrack of this film (see detailed notes beyond the jump break). This is still the time when people were singing, before the breakthrough of music based on mechanical reproduction. There is even a silent cinema sequence with live piano music: in a newsreel we see the proud young captain Einar Johansson who has been in charge of a successful rescue mission.
The cinematographer is none other than Julius Jaenzon, the wizard of Sjöström and Stiller, on the last leg of an unforgettable career, still at it beautifully, facing the elements, shooting on location, capturing the magic of the sea, the sky, and the land. The footage of the tall sailing ships may be stock footage.
The brilliant print looks like it might have been struck from the original negative.
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON KIRSTI MANNINEN AND SVENSK FILMOGRAFI: