This fall, Scandinavia House has been presenting a fill series spotlighting “Nature and Narrative in Norway,” which continues with the Scandinavian arthouse landmark The Hunt, tonight and again on Friday.
The existential chill of haute postwar international cinema—the bare, shimmering black and white surfaces and the beautiful, opaque posed people of Hiroshima or Marienbad—becomes a literal, environmental deep-freeze in The Hunt, from 1959, Norway’s own contribution to the genre.
In the film, a husband, wife, and their best friend stalk birds in the rolling, frosty scrub of the Norwegian countryside, piercing the air with whistles after their roving, poised hunting dogs. The film opens in flash-forward, with a coffin being carried away from the hunting shed, and the three are introduced by a busybody narrator who asks, not quite rhetorically, whether the wife and friend have already become lovers: in successive close-ups, the husband sneers, the wife is aghast, and the friend panicked. But the love triangle is bundled up for much of the movie, as if in fear of the decisive action foreshadowed with every jolting gunshot.
The chronology, as was the fashion, is a slipstream of flashbacks across the days of the hunting trip and, in the film’s middle section, back to married life in Oslo (with further flashbacks to courtship within the sequence). Director Erik Løchen is able to make an emblematic contrast between the two settings, rough-hewn rural—sweaters and dice games by candlelight in the wooden cabin—and urban chic; he also weds spiritually questing, barren visual textures to modernist storytelling, with the triad’s alternating inner monologues achieving a sort of desperate emotional direct address. Voice-over is ever-present, with all three characters’ innermost thoughts elbowing the narrator out of the way to appeal to the audience, or making themselves known in sequences that begin as someone else’s perspective. The film’s an appealing mix of teeming interiority and fatalistic atmosphere.
(Løchen, incidentally, a key figure in Norway’s postwar cinema, is the grandfather of Reprise director Joachim Trier, who a couple of years ago dropped by the Film Society of Lincoln Center to introduce Løchen’s other key film—available with The Hunt on a two-disc import from the Norsk Film Institut—1972’s Remonstrance, which is said to work equally well no matter which order you project its five reels in.)