The Ibsen Centennial on Film By Per Haddal

in 16th Tromso International Film Festival

by Per Haddal

In 2006 Norway celebrates its towering playwright Henrik Ibsen with an extensive and expensive program, a centennial. Ibsen died a hundred years ago in the Norwegian capital Oslo with which he had a strong love and hate relationship throughout his whole life. The centennial launches a huge scholarly edition of his entire work down to the last existing letter. His plays are analyzed to the last degree in other connections as well. And old and new biographies are published in quick succession.

And of course his plays are staged, in the theatre, in a complete series of radio renderings and on screen, TV and movie theatres.

Unfortunately no new Ibsen feature film for cinema will appear. Due to financial reasons Liv Ullmann had to give up her project A Doll’s House with Cate Blanchett or Kate Winslet successively signed for the Nora part. At least seven other Ibsen projects have been developed during the last five years, without coming into film.

One reason might be that Erik Skjoldbjærg’s (Insomnia) modernized An Enemy Of The People failed last year. The problem is always the same: changing the structure of a play by Ibsen simply can’t be done. He was a too meticulous craftsman, a watchmaker so to speak, to make changes possible or successful in close readings.

Ibsen has been adapted 58 times before the centennial, but only three versions are Norwegian. Besides we could mention Joseph Losey’s A Doll’s House with Jane Fonda, Satyajit Ray’s An Enemy Of The People and Trevor Nunn’s Hedda Gabler with Glenda Jackson.

What has all this got to do with the Tromso Film Festival? In the new stage building Halogaland Theatre the pubcaster NRK and the Norwegian Film Fund presented a series of shorter films, close to half an hour each, inspired by Ibsen’s plays and ideas, transplanted to contemporary Norway. All the filmmakers and scriptwriters of Norway were invited to a competition, which for once turned out to be successful.

Some of the films refer directly to plays like A Doll’s House, The Master Builder, Peer Gynt. But they were all free and easy renderings, the best ones were completely free. Marius Holst is a very talented filmmaker. Ti kniver i hjertet (Cross My Heart And Hope To Die) won the Blue Angel in Berlin twelve years ago, Oyenstikker (Dragonflies) also had a wide distribution. His Bastard is the work of a master builder of cinema who doesn’t fall down from the top of his construction. It is almost like a Strindberg play, a matrimonial dance of death, but extremely witty when husband and wife fight over a dog.

For your information: Ibsen’s Master Builder has been turned into the manager of a circus and falls down from the top of the tent. And so on … I could go on like this, but at least I like to tip colleagues and festival programmers: Ekko av Ibsen (Echoes Of Ibsen) is a very happy result of the Centennial, well worth seeing and screening also outside of Norway.