The Growth of the Soil, 1921

Two of the earliest surviving silent films in the Norwegian Film Archives were included in the program, the first of which is Gunnar Sommerfeldt’s epic ode to rugged individualism and self-reliance, The Growth of the Soil, based on the Nobel Prize-winning novel by internationally renowned native author, Knut Pedersen Hamsun. Tracing the pioneering adventures of Isak (Amund Rydland), a man seemingly without a past who came upon a clearing in the woods of a “No Man’s Land”, far away from traces of civilization and decided to claim the area as his own, Isak’s life becomes a contemporary parable for the birth of civilization, marrying an “unwanted” woman from a distant village named Inger (Karen Thalbitzer), endlessly toiling on their self-created frontier utopia, forging an enduring friendship with the district sheriff and his assistant after paying a state-ordered visit to the property in order to settle ownership, and becoming the reluctant founding father of a burgeoning town after the government decides to build a telegraph station within his property in order to connect two neighboring cities. Retaining the neo-romantic tone of Hamsun’s novel, the film is infused with a certain element of mysticism, fantasy, and suspension of disbelief, creating an oddly stilted atmosphere and logical incongruence that is at once realistic, yet otherworldly, intimate yet impersonal (a dichotomy that is perhaps best encapsulated in Inger sending Isak away on errands throughout the film, only to return in complete surprise to find that she had given birth to a child, apparently unaware of any of her pregnancies).

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