Directed: Ola Solum
Genre: Drama, Historical
At the peak of the Middle Ages, Norway was regarded as a major European power. When the great plague, which was known as the Black Death, devastated Europe around 1350, Norway was hardest hit. More than two thirds of the population perished, and for more than 400 years, the country suffered a shadowy existence as a Danish dependency. The Norwegian spirit was sought quelled by the Danish overlords. It survived first and foremost thanks to popular culture. The legend of a little girl, the sole survivor of the plague in a narrow valley on the west coast of Norway, became one of the most important harbingers of the hope of a national rebirth -the legend of Jostedalsrypa- the Jostedal Grouse. Second Sight is the fascinating film version of this legend. East in the district of Sogn lies the valley Justedal. At the time of the Black Death the inhabitants of Justedal try to isolate themselves to avoid contamination. This notwithstanding, the disease reached their valley and wrought great destruction. It killed all who dwelt there, except one little girl at the Birkehoug farm...
Movie ReviewsSecond Sight (1994)
As simple as any medieval tale would aim to tell it
Second Sight (1994) 93m.
Jostedalen, 1349. 14th-Century Europe is ravaged by the Black Death, but Norway is one of the hardest hit nations, losing nearly two thirds of its population in the plague’s wake. Even given these astonishing figures, you’d think that seven-year-old Maren (Julia Onsager Steen) would have had at least one or two survivors to keep her company after the pandemic strikes her family and friends. But no, Maren is the only one to be spared. If you've ever wanted to view a film that depicts a young girl wandering about a picturesque valley alone reciting rhymes to herself, then this is that movie, and not much else. The ‘second sight’ of the title refers only to the final scenes, in which Maren is found by neighboring villagers and attributed with clairvoyant powers (she wears her ‘birthcap’, or umbilical membrane, as an amulet). It’s a talent she’s not sure she wants, or even has, although like everyone else in her world she puts her faith in the powers of the arcane for survival. Almost the only time we ever hear her talk is when she is chanting to drive away wolves, bears, or maleficent spirits. SECOND SIGHT draws an interesting correlation between the talismanic manifestations of child logic and the belief systems of the medieval era per se. It’s fascinating to see her single-handedly and unconsciously keeping the ritualistic sensibilities of her culture alive, even though we now know these beliefs to be misinformed and doomed.
The lack of incident in the film might be overlooked if it was meant to be, say, a lyric piece, or an experience of awakening, but it strives for neither. This makes me think that its portrayal of events is intended to be as simple as any medieval tale would aim to tell it. It could be that director Ola Solum wants his story to reach us at a primal level: we are not watching a story, we are merely watching life. Whatever, this leaves young Steen with the task of carrying the bulk of the film, and she’s not given a lot to do other than look anxious and shout the occasional verse. However, she makes a believable peasant girl (it’s amazing what a liberal application of dirt can do) and looks right at home in her setting – I didn’t realize how taken in I was by her performance until the final freeze-frame. The surrounding countryside is also suitably wild and medieval: Solum employs a vertiginous handheld wide-angle lens to good effect. Director Anja Breien wrote the screenplay. Jan Garbarek supplied the rather eclectic score.