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Vakonin Peura: Tale of a Witch’s Love

by Lindsay Long
Jan. 1, 2014

Over the stark, serene landscape of Arctic Finland unfolds the supernatural love story Valkoinen Peura. Directed in 1952 by Erik Blomberg, and starring the stunning Mirjami Kuosmanen as Pirita, a young woman who becomes romantically involved with a Sami reindeer herder before falling victim to a twisted curse. Sami refers to an indigenous group of Scandinavians who rely entirely on the natural world for survival. Due to their isolated existence, many traditional beliefs including animism and shamanism have been practiced for centuries.

Aslak, the strapping reindeer herder, asks for Pirita’s hand in marriage and the pair begin to assume their new life together. However, due to the nature of his work, the bride is left for long, lonely stretches of time. When the exhausted Aslak finally returns home, he hardly has the energy to show his beautiful wife the affection she craves and deserves. Disenchanted with newlywed life, Pirita becomes desperate. She treks through the windswept tundra to seek the spiritual advice of a shaman. The Noaidi as referred to in Sami culture, possesses the power to communicate with the underworld. He claims to have been expecting her and proceeds to cast a spell with the severed testicles of ten deer, while chanting a joik and playing a rune drum. This ceremonial instrument and ritualistic song were used during shamanistic practices and are considered a part of sorcery and witchcraft. They have been banned throughout history by the Roman Catholic Church and as Christianity infiltrated these undisturbed regions in attempts of forcing out traditional folk religion practices.

Under the condition she sacrifices the first living thing she lays her eyes on, the spell will be cast that Pirita be found utterly irresistible to all men. This happens to be a white reindeer calf Aslak had presented his new wife with. In Finnish mythology, white animals have always held a significant role as sacrificial offerings to the gods. After stabbing the animal at the foot of a siedi, a sacred spiritual landmark and portal to the netherworld, she collapses from the power of the twisted spell. As nightfalls and moonlight casts over the restless Pirita, she magically shapeshifts into a white reindeer. When witnessed by herders, the men become entranced with the animal and feel compelled to pursue it. Upon wrangling the elusive creature, they each find she has yet again transformed back into a beautiful woman…only now with a thirst for blood. Word travels that a witch white reindeer is terrorizing the land. In a desperate attempt to stop the evil spirit, villagers begin to forge spears and carry knives. According to legend, cold iron is the only way to truly kill a witch. Pirita is horrified by her own actions and pleads at the seidi to release her from the curse and reverse the spell. Mystic sorcery is an assumedly powerful force with irreversible consequences and it seems foolish for the lovely Pirita to beg. “Sorrow fills the mind even though the night ends in a certain destiny.”

Shot in black and white over the beautiful isolated landscape of the Arctic Circle, this movie offers more than a scary story with the moral ‘Careful what you wish for’. Steeped in Sami shamanism, it gives an introspective view of the autochthonous culture and lifestyle. Paganism was the native polytheistic religion of Finland until the introduction of Christianity during the 11th century. Despite a religious crusade to root out these traditional beliefs, some are instilled to this day. The film also offers an interesting look into the livelihoods of the Sami people. Even actress Mirjami Kuosmanen displays impressive reindeer wrangling skills. And while they aren’t typically aggressive animals, the antlers certainly make them appear intimidating creatures. Cruising around on snowshoes and being guided by a wild animal through the frozen tundra also seems a far cry from the congested city streets I call home.

Upon the film's initial release in 1952, it received Jussi awards for best actress, cinematography, and music score. Jussi is the premier award ceremony held to acknowledge excellence in the Finnish film industry. It also received the honor of best fairy tale film by a Jean Cocteau led panel at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. Five years later, the movie was released in the United States under the literal translation of its title, White Reindeer. Again, the film was praised and honored as recipient for the best foreign language film at the 1957 Golden Globe Awards. Director Erik Blomberg was married to the film’s lovely leading lady, and Kuosmanen is even credited with co-writing the tale. This isn’t the only project the couple shared and the two remained married until her death in 1963. After a limited release in the US, the movie wasn’t restored until 1986 and still doesn’t seem to receive the recognition it rightfully deserves. Valkoinen Peura continues to be a finely crafted film with a storyline rich in Finnish folklore and mysticism.

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Sundholm, John. "V." Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Cinema. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2012. 390-92. Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Film. Scarecrow Press. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <http://books.google.com/books?id=QktG6a4YnQYC&pg=PA390&lpg=PA390&dq=1957+golden+globe+best+foreign+film+white+reindeer&source=bl&ots=G4Yzw6J2gN&sig=85-vWrefngRYH4OY46OHYvNjw54&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ljmqUoWJPI2A2QW42IDIDA&ved=0CEgQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=1957%20golden%20globe%20best%20foreign%20film%20white%20reindeer&f=false>.

"Valkoinen Peura." Www.imdb.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045283/>.

Currently holdin’ it down in the dirty south city of Atlanta, Network Awesome contributor Lindsay can be found frequenting house parties, punk rock shows, seedy thrift stores, or glued to her computer screen unearthing the endless gems today's internet offers. A self-proclaimed fan of all things vintage, including the nudie mags of yesteryear, she possesses an insatiable appetite for anything visually mind-blowing or just totally tasteless. Notorious B.I.G. sums her up best with a line from ‘Gimme the Loot': ”Dangerous. Crazier than a bag of f*@#$%g angel dust.”